From Mexico to Brazil, how is the Ukraine crisis playing in Latin America?

Reactions in the region have ranged from name calling to accusations of Russian meddling to observations of declining world powers.

Vadim Ghirda/AP
A woman walks between armed men in riot gear, that were performing identity and hand bag checks on people walking near the building of Crimea's regional parliament in Simferopol, Ukraine, Monday, March 17, 2014.

The American University Latin America blog can be read here. The views expressed are the author's own.

Latin America’s low-key reaction to events in Ukraine and Crimea suggest that opinion-makers are distracted by domestic issues and perceive such far-off developments as having little bearing on the region. 

The Brazilian press has noted the “pathetic and weak” leadership of the United States and Europe and said Russia was creating a “Soviet Union light” with nationalist rather than communist undertones. Commentators have criticized Russia’s propagandistic narrative, in which criticism of Russian expansionism and interventionism is countered with examples of the American and European bloody history. They have said [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s motives are a clear and explicit demonstration of power, where Crimea is a non-negotiable territory. The [Brazilian press] has variously called President Obama’s diplomatic responses “flaccid” and his speech about President Putin’s motives an “unintelligible declaration.” Prior to Putin’s military moves, [Brazilian] President Dilma Rousseff asserted that the protests in Venezuela are different from those in Kiev, where an “institutional rupture” is taking place, and she has been relatively quiet since. There have been minor considerations on how a European crisis affects the Brazilian economy, since Europe absorbed 20 percent of Brazil’s exports last year.

The Mexican press has loudly criticized Putin’s actions. Commentators have described Russia as a “monstrous creature who combines state capitalism and a corrupt oligarchy.” They have accused Putin of threatening world peace over strategic interests. They note that Putin holds considerable leverage over Europe (via its supply of vital energy resources) and the United States (in negotiating over Syria and Iran), and they say that he appears likely to get his way in Crimea. Some have denounced Putin for attempting to turn the clock back to Russia’s imperialist days, and describe this tendency alongside the United States’ inability to shape events as signs that both are declining world powers.

Both Brazil and Mexico have a full plate of domestic issues monopolizing political attention. In Brazil, the middle class and elites remain upset about corruption surrounding the ruling [Workers Party], and many Brazilians continue to seethe over the scale of public expenditures that have constructed soccer stadiums rather than solid institutions for providing education and health. The cost of preparations for the World Cup, set to start in three months, as well as the fortunes of the Brazilian team in that crucial tournament, have great implications for the fate of the Rousseff administration. Insofar as international issues reach the national agenda, Rousseff appears most concerned with domestic political developments in Venezuela, where UNASUR has offered to play a mediating role. In Mexico, President Peña Nieto and the media appear seized with security issues – ranging from the spectacular arrests of drug traffickers to the troubling emergence of “self-defense” groups – and the president’s ambitious economic reform agenda.  The Cold War-style East-West maneuvering over Ukraine hasn’t registered deeply in either country, or elsewhere in Latin America.

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