How Ukraine Fits into Latin America’s Contradictory Foreign Policies

How Ukraine Fits into Latin America’s Contradictory Foreign Policies

The Ukraine-Latin America Summit in 2024 seeks to neutralize Russia’s influence in the region by promoting political dialogue and cooperation in areas of common interest and shared normative visions.

The formula for a successful foreign policy—with substance, significance, and results—lies in aligning the state’s strategic interests with the nation’s founding principles. That is to say, policymakers’ decisions aimed at maximizing the wealth and power of said state must also project and protect society’s permanent values.

These ingredients make a foreign policy predictable and consistent, rendering the state and the government credible. In a world with sharp fluctuations in economic power and military supremacy, in addition to widely held norms, credibility is the capital to accumulate. It’s simple: tending to the normative dimension builds reputation.

The above expresses the old inconsistencies between the short-term rationality of a maximizing state (interests) and the values of a state with a defined identity (principles). A permanent and inevitable tension occurs when it is not adequately resolved, goals are diluted, and the short- and long-term contradict and neutralize each other.

Hence, “soft power” can be as important as “hard power.” This notion is often absent in much of Latin America except Costa Rica. Precisely, this is observed in the approach of the countries of the hemisphere to the war in Ukraine; always in a contradictory manner among them, with marked changes between governments of the same country, and even with inconsistencies in the same government from one forum to the other and from one week to the next, all with the resulting decrease in reputational capital.

For example, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela align with Russia in international fora and engage in military cooperation through the sharing of intelligence, troops, and weapons with Moscow. The abstention of Argentina, Bolivia, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, and Brazil from a 2022 Organization of American States (OAS) vote suspending Russia’s observer status further exemplifies this inconsistency.

Brazil’s abstention is puzzling since President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva publicly denounced Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty. Moreover, according to the forum, Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico condemned Russia at the United Nations just seven days after they abstained from the OAS vote on the declaration condemning the invasion. 

Hence, to address these issues, Kyiv has undertaken a foreign policy initiative: the Ukraine-Latin America Summit in 2024. It seeks to neutralize Russia’s influence in the region by promoting political dialogue and cooperation in areas of common interest and shared normative visions. 

Ukraine and the Latin American nations depend on protecting the legal principles that underpin the architecture of international peace and security and a rules-based international order. The erosion of those rules has made them similarly vulnerable. Unlike Ukraine, Latin America has not suffered a war of aggression, but it has been invaded by organized crime to such an extent that, as a region, it is the world leader in per capita deaths

Therefore, the summit’s proposed agenda includes international peace and security, human rights and democracy, and cooperation in complementary commercial areas, especially agro-industrial technology. Ukraine and Latin America are global food producers, and ending food insecurity on the planet would be possible with global strategies that include and coordinate their respective agricultural policies.

Given its experience, Ukraine can be an important ally in cyber-security. Counteracting the Russian disinformation campaign in Latin America, where its propaganda is very active, is essential. Finally, through an agenda of dialogue and cooperation, the Zelensky government aspires to involve Latin American nations in discussing its “Peace Formula,” a ten-point plan for restoring a world order based on sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Zelensky himself said at the time: “Which side would Simón Bolívar be on in this war that Russia unleashed against Ukraine? Who would José de San Martín support? Who would Miguel Hidalgo sympathize with? I don’t think they would help someone just plundering a smaller country like a typical colonizer.”

The problem is that Latin America’s anti-imperialist convictions are so often selective. So many overwhelm us with pompous rhetoric about “American imperialism and its lackeys,” reciting what they learned reading Granma (the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party) while overlooking Russian imperialism and its penetration into the region through brutal dictatorships. It is time for Latin America’s international relations to be based on norms, principles, and values.

Hector Schamis teaches at Georgetown University’s Center for Latin American Studies. He has published books and articles on topics such as privatization and state reform, populism, authoritarianism, democracy, and U.S.-Latin American relations. Follow him on X: @hectorschamis.