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Editorial / Commentary / Opinion



Gustavo Coronel : World War III:
the Latin American theatre



Nostradamus predictions about the WWIII are still popular. Political analysts draw the most diverse scenarios about the potential triggering events of a new global war: the U.S. invasion of Iran, an Israeli-Arab war, a U.S.-Russia conflict over Georgia. Few people seem to realize that WWIII already started sometime ago, an all-out war between contrasting ideologies already claiming thousands of lives.


Latin America is more intensely involved in this global conflict than it was the case in World War II, when it was mostly a center of espionage with isolated war events in Caribbean waters. Dictatorial governments in Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia sympathized with the axis but popular pressure kept the countries neutral. Venezuela, Colombia and Costa Rica severed diplomatic relations with Italy, Germany and Japan early in the war. Most Latin American countries sat on the fence and only declared war on the axis almost at the end of the conflict.


Today the whole world is involved in a war between freedom, evolution and democracy, on the one side, and authoritarianism, revolution and repression on the other. The democratic side is made up of countries with well developed free market economies, mostly politically stable, including the first world but also many developing countries. The other side is made up of countries with state-controlled economies, authoritarian leaders and frequently unstable, less developed societies. At the risk of oversimplification they could be defined as the Socialist bloc. Important countries such as China and Russia have political regimes that seem to hover between the two sides, although their economic framework and social trends seem to lean, more and more, towards the democratic/ free-market side. Democratic countries exhibit free and even intense economic competition while the Socialist block is characterized by rigid, politically driven economic alliances.


In contrast with WWII, when countries showing sympathy for the axis remained neutral, Latin American countries involved in WWIII have openly established inter-continental alignments. Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez has promoted a global alliance against the United States, establishing close ties with, among others, Iran’s Ahmadinejad, Libya’s Qaddaffi, Belarus’ Lukanshenko and Zimbabwe’s Mugabe, while becoming the best client of Russia in the acquisition of weapons. Chavez is currently delivering the significant heavy oil resources of the Orinoco Area into the hands of Russian, Iranian, Chinese and Vietnamese state oil companies, in an effort to put these resources beyond the reach of U.S. oil companies. Chavez has promoted the entry of Iran into several Latin American countries such as Bolivia and Nicaragua, countries that have established economic and political links with the Iranian regime. Brazilian president Lula, although friendly to the United States and leading a democratic country with a free-market economy has remained a supporter of strongman Hugo Chavez (He has called him” the best Venezuelan president of the last one hundred years”) and has also supported Iranian nuclear policies. Lula’s heart pulls him to the left and his brain to the right. As a result he seems to be losing the trust of both sides.

To counterbalance these alliances made by the socialist bloc, democratic leaders like Colombia’s Uribe have strengthened military ties with the U.S.


Also in contrast with WWII, when death and destruction did not affect the region significantly, WWIII has already taken the lives of thousands of Latin Americans. Drug trafficking, gang warfare, kidnapping, alliance with international terrorism and growing political repression by authoritarian regimes have reached epidemic proportions. The Venezuelan murder rate is one of the highest in the world. Drug trafficking in Venezuela and Mexico , narco-terrorism in Colombia , gang violence in El Salvador and Guatemala are producing more violent deaths than those that take place in geopolitical hotspots such as Iraq or Afghanistan . Although violence has been endemic to Latin America for many years due to social inequality and poverty much of the increment during the last decade has political and ideological roots. Authoritarian regimes such as the ones in Venezuela , Nicaragua and Bolivia have increasingly engaged in political repression and have promoted social and racial struggle, while Chavez has aligned his regime with international terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah and with drug traffickers like the Colombian FARC in his efforts at establishing a Marxist system in the hemisphere.


A characteristic of the Latin American theatre is that the U.S. , the leader of the democratic side, has chosen not to be an active player in the region, preferring to remain in the sidelines. As a result Latin America has witnessed some political victories of the Socialist bloc, although these victories are not as significant nor will they be as permanent in time as some analysts believe. After eleven years of almost absolute political power and significant oil income Hugo Chavez, the leader of the “revolt” against democracy in the hemisphere, is experiencing serious challenges to his credibility at home and abroad. The weakening of Chavez’s political position, not to mention his ousting from power, would likely cause a domino effect among the political leadership of the countries that largely depend on his financial handouts, namely, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua and to a lesser extent Ecuador, Argentina and even Paraguay. His recent political defeat in Honduras has been a cold shower to his ambitions of adding Central America to his “Socialist empire”. The strategy of the U.S. , over-extended in other areas of the world, has been to wait for Chavez to “implode”.


Even if successful this strategy could be a costly one because victory or defeat cannot only be measured in political or economic terms. A Chavez political collapse is possible or even probable in the near future (three years) and this collapse will probably mean the death of ALBA and other fragile political and economic constructs of the chavismo in Latin America . However the problem faced by the free-market, democratic bloc in Latin America runs deeper than a plus or minus Chavez. It has to do with a mass of millions of poor and ignorant people that have to be brought out of poverty and ignorance if the region really wants to get rid of the many populists like Chavez that await them in every corner, promising them what they cannot deliver. WWIII will not be won as long as the democratic and free world does not offer a valid alternative to populism. The best democracy can hope for would be a stalemate.


Alternatives exist but they take time, effort and perseverance. They would not require so much money as past economic programs to Latin America that have had only short-lived success. One of these alternatives is to promote the creation of citizens, to transform Latin America from a region of people into a region of citizens. This can be done within two generations. I am sure that it would be easier than going to the moon.



Gustavo Coronel is a 28 years oil industry veteran, a member of the first board of directors (1975-1979) of Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), author of several books. At the present Coronel is Petroleumworld associate editor and advisor on the opinion and editorial content of the site. Petroleumworld does not necessarily share these views.

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Petroleumworld News 01/05/2010


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