Washington is keeping the growing influence of China and Russia in Latin America in its sights due to the worrying consequences that this expansion could have in terms of instability, insecurity, and weakening of democratic institutions.
Such is what U.S. Army General Laura J. Richardson, commander of U.S. Southern Command, said in an interview with Voice of America, highlighting the need to work with partners and allies in the region to counter the impact of these two nations.
“We need to work with the militaries and defense forces of our partners and allies, making them stronger and helping them overcome these cross-cutting challenges and these threats,” she said, adding that this plan to work together will make the nations “stronger.”
Beijing’s “debt traps”
Gen. Richardson warned that the Chinese government is increasing its influence in many Latin American countries under the guise of investing in the region, but in reality, she said, these investments are not such, as they do not promote economic prosperity since they bring in many Chinese workers and do not encourage local hiring.
“They don’t invest in these countries because they bring their own Chinese workers. They don’t hire local workers,” she said.
Accordingly, Gen. Richardson also pointed out that China is taking advantage of the vulnerability of Latin American economies to offer them, among other things, loans with a large debt that will later be impossible to assume. In her opinion, this is another strategy that China pursues to gain greater power in the region.
“There are many things, investments that China is making in ports, deep waters, telecommunications, infrastructure, projects that are often not done very well or there is a lot of debt, many loans that are disbursed for these countries to assume,” she said.
The countries of the southern part of the continent, many suffering through the high inflation rates worldwide, see these Chinese projects as a valuable opportunity to tidy up their accounts. But, Gen. Richardson says, they are actually getting deeper into debt.
“We call it a ‘debt trap,’ which doesn’t help these countries in the long run. So, we try to work with them and advise them on the pitfalls that could occur,” she added.
Russia’s disinformation campaigns
Concerning Russia, the senior U.S. official also expressed concern about the Kremlin’s position on disinformation campaigns in Latin America. In this regard, she said that the Vladimir Putin government seeks to undermine democratic institutions, which would be a dangerous move for the entire region.
“Russia is very popular with disinformation and fake news, and I think it helps prop up candidates in elections who may not be the right people to promote democracy and create democracy,” she said.