War in Ukraine: mixed views from Latin America

Many Latin American governments have clearly condemned the war in Ukraine. But calls for a peaceful solution are also mixed with much criticism of NATO and the West.

Ukrainian President Zelensky is “as responsible as Putin” for the conflict in Ukraine, former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said in an interview with Time magazine that caused a stir, not just in Brazil. According to Lula, “in a war there is not only one culprit.” Lula, the favorite in the October presidential elections in Brazil, described the invasion as a “mistake” and accused Zelenski of not having negotiated enough: “He wanted the war. If he didn’t want the war, he would have negotiated a little more.” The 76-year-old leader of the Brazilian left also criticized the position of the United States and its president, Joe Biden. “The United States has a very great weight, and he (Biden) could avoid that (the conflict), instead of stimulating it. He could have dialogued more, participated more, Biden could have taken a plane to Moscow to talk with Putin. That is the attitude expected of a leader,” Lula judged.

The criticism that the West has not negotiated enough with Putin and, therefore, is equally responsible for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, is repeated, albeit in a more moderate tone, in recent statements by Pope Francis to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. The Supreme Pontiff said that he would be willing to travel to Moscow to speak with Putin and try to end the war. Questioning the causes of the conflict, the Catholic leader spoke of the Kremlin’s “anger” being “facilitated” by “NATO’s barking at Russia’s gates.”

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The allusion to NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Warsaw Pact is seen by many critics of the West as one of the reasons that led to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Those critical voices can be found even in the United States.

In a recent column for The American Conservative, conservative analyst Doug Bandow criticizes the Western version of the need to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty, sarcastically asking, “Has the United States ever believed that its neighbors would have the right to exercise their sovereignty without limits?” And he adds: “Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz once described his country, which lost half of its territory to an imperialist invasion by the United States, with the words ‘so far from God, so close to the United States.’ Something similar happens with Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Panama, Grenada, Venezuela and Colombia, among others. All of them suffered the not-so-tender ’embrace’ from Washington.”

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The distrust towards Washington and, therefore, also towards NATO, is, due to historical experience, much more widespread in Latin America than, for example, in Europe. The general malaise in many Latin American countries in the face of this war in distant Europe has its echo in the contradictions of the governments that, on the one hand, condemn the war, but, at the same time, classify themselves as “neutral” and refuse to support Western sanctions against Russia.

The position of the three Latin American members of the Group of Twenty (G20) is especially noteworthy in the context of the US attempt to isolate Russia internationally. Indonesia recently declared not to exclude Russia from the G20 summit, scheduled for next November on the island of Bali, despite pressure from the US and other Western countries.

The president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, has repeatedly reiterated his country’s “neutrality” in the war between Russia and Ukraine. “We will not take sides,” the far-right president said in late April. “We want peace, but we don’t want there to be consequences for us here.” Bolsonaro stressed that Brazil is “very dependent” on Russian fertilizers.

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The case of Mexico is similar. The lack of interest of the Mexican president in foreign policy is well known. López Obrador ends precisely this Monday his fourth trip abroad, to Central American countries and Cuba. It was his first that did not lead him to the United States. According to a famous phrase by López Obrador, “the best foreign policy is the internal one.” The López Obrador government acts with caution, calls for a peaceful solution and supports humanitarian aid efforts with the victims.

Argentina also maintains a “mixed” position, between statements affirming its neutrality in this conflict and condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Argentine Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero explained his country’s position, assuring that despite condemning the Invasion, Argentina is not aligned with NATO and remains neutral in the conflict in Europe. “The only alignment that Argentina has is the interests of the Argentine men and women, that is the foreign policy of our country,” said the official. And he added: “There is no need to choose sides here.”

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