The disembarkation last month of Russian military “specialists” in Venezuela is sending geopolitical shockwaves across the region. Weeks after the regime of Nicolás Maduro closed its overland border with Colombia in response to a failed attempt by the U.S., European Union and host of South American governments to deliver humanitarian aid
In a move that could be interpreted as one of the most aggressive and visible in terms of Russian military deployment in the Western Hemisphere since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, the arrival of troops and weapons to support the dictatorship of Maduro has also set off the alarm bells in Washington, with U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo making clear that “the United States has its responses being prepared.”
The escalating tensions between the U.S and Russia regarding the end game in Venezuela could drag the entire region into a Syria-style power vacuum, and one that would negatively impact Colombia and its economy.
If the situation gets “worse before it gets better,” as the top U.S diplomat remarked with the arrival of 100 Russian military personnel, the Colombian government of President Iván Duque will find itself at a dangerous juncture having invested much of its foreign policy capital on backing Juan Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela. Guaidó is supported by more than 50 countries as the only leader who can restore democracy to Venezuela, but after he defied Maduro’s travel ban.
In February to personally oversee the movement of humanitarian aid from the Colombian side of the border, upon his return to Caracas, the empathetic leader was stripped of his parliamentary immunity, a move that potentially could result in arrest.
The Colombian government has welcomed more than a million Venezuelan refugees since the migration crisis broke in 2017, exacerbated in recent months, as the economic crisis deepens with prolonged power blackouts and families, from the poorest slums to wealthiest neighborhoods, scrambling to find drinking water.
For the majority of Colombians, especially those residing in Bogotá, the plight of migrants has become an everyday ordeal, from panhandlers in TransMilenio to begging for food out- side restaurants. Beside the tugging at your heartstrings tales of how many crossed over with all their belongings in one suitcase, leaving behind loves ones who must survive on the money they make on the streets of the capital, the social cost of the migration, from offering health care, maintaining temporary shelters and soup kitchens, and educating children amounts to the equivalent of US$1.5 billion every year, a fiscal impact for the Colombian economy at a time in which the economy is far from buoyant and new jobs aren’t being created.
Take modest growth compounded with widespread disenchantment over taxes and rising food prices, to name just a few everyday realities, and the mood of the nation is grim. At a time in which Colombians are worried about their jobs, an overburdened health care system, rising tuition fees, the suffering of Venezuelans on home soil is worrisome, but the country can hardly afford getting dragged into a Cold War conflict that since the Cuban missile crisis has new players backing Maduro to challenge U.S hegemony in the Americas.
The multipolar nature of this geopo- litical free for all, grounded in the nucle- ar rivalry between the U.S and Russia, overtly threatens our security.And Co- lombia, having recently sealed a peace process with a Marxist guerrilla formed during the height of the Cold War and one which, for more than a half-century, tried to seize control of the country vio- lently, remains deeply polarized.
The election eight months ago of a conservative government that unconditionally backs the U.S effort to oust Maduro, could face the prospect of more internal revolts – similar to the indigenous-led protest that blocked the Pan-American highway for weeks.
The indigenous uprising in Cauca remains a localized response by the “minga” leaders to force the government of Iván Duque to enact the social programs set out in the FARC peace accord, but the message to the country at large is one of economic vulnerability and ideological manipulation by dissent groups to the destabilize one of Colombia’s most agriculturally rich departments, where coca plantations are protected by special indigenous laws.
The notion of military confrontation between the U.S and Russia in Venezuela has not transcended a war of words. What began at a border has yet to generate broader chaos. If Guaidó, however, is jailed by the Maduro regime and tortured like his political mentor Leopoldo López, a showdown could drag in Russia’s powerhungry proxies – Iran, Turkey and China – making any resolution a distant reality. Tragically, as recent history has shown, it is always the people that end up suffering, and Venezuelans have suffered enough.