Writing about the two Russian nuclear-capable bombers that landed two weeks ago in Venezuela, I cautioned that we should expect more such moves as Russia and China seek to enhance their presence in the Caribbean Basin. We didn’t have to wait long. Russia just announced that Venezuela will allow Moscow to establish a military base on the island of La Orchila, just 311 km east of Curaçao.
The need for us to form a judgement to determine how best to relate to Russia and China in our region as they clearly seek to rebalance the historic dominance of Europe and the US is obvious. Yet so far we, especially our politicians, have remained conspicuously silent.
There are some crucial points we have to take into consideration.
China and Russia are cooperating on many fronts to weaken the Western grip on the global order. But they’re also competitors and will continue to collaborate -also in our region- until it’s no longer in either’s interest to do so.
Without a doubt a new Cold War is brewing in the Caribbean between the US on one side and China and Russia on the other. Because of this, some countries, especially Venezuela and Nicaragua, have gained a degree of geopolitical significance which they eagerly use to diffuse their domestic crises. Also, authoritarianism in Cuba, Suriname, Dominica and others are being emboldened by China and Russia.
Both Beijing and Moscow have their eyes on several regional small (island)states which they expect will align with them in the United Nations, further boosting their global influence.
The US has been cutting assistance to the region and taking a hard line on immigration making the US unpopular. Leaders like the Prime Minister of Dominica praised President Putin saying that Russian leadership has “provided a great balance in the world on international issues”.
Talks here and in The Hague about constitutional changes whilst we do not even have a referendum law may push us towards becoming a vassal state. We should also be aware of the practices Russia employs elsewhere to influence democracies via cyberwar and the presence of operatives. Some areas in Curaçao, especially politics as we saw recently, are especially vulnerable to outside influence.
We need to have a frank conversation how best to relate to Russia and China in our region. I’m not saying we should dismiss them. We need to focus on our connections on the long run regarding these newcomers as well as our traditional partners. These important considerations need to be discussed here and should not be relegated totally to The Hague.