|EDINBURG, May 18 - Ukraine and Latin America? Any connections? Come on! Any faithful reader by now knows I can squeeze out a reference to Mexico or the rest of Latin America from most news stories.
So, let’s focus on both areas—mainly on one special, beleaguered part of Latin America, Cuba. We may learn more about both countries, and more about “dos and don’ts” for U.S. foreign policy.
We could apply lessons from one to the other. Let’s start with basics. First, what is a “Ukraine?” It is a country in central Europe about the size of Texas. It is, geographically and ethnically, literally a crossroads. Some say the name originally meant “borderland.” Others say its origins were more profound: “homeland.” But for whom?
Ukraine is steeped in thousands of years of history, the home of the first domesticated horses. It was settled by the Greeks, influenced by the Ottoman Empire, subsequently entered—its mineral wealth and timber exploited--by Poland, Sweden, and Germany. Today, Ukraine’s reality is again vividly divided, split between forces pro-Russian and pro-European.
In 2004 the “Orange Revolution” against corruption occurred. Five years of “Ukrainization,”diminishing the influence of Russia, was followed by the election of President Yanukovych. He began anew a tilt toward Russia, tempted by President Putin’s offers of financial aid. He rejected a slightly less advantageous economic pact with the European Union.
When Ukrainians who wanted closer ties with Europe protested, the president cracked down on dissenters. They had multiplied in the famous “Maidan,” that is, the Greek Agora, or the main square for intellectual protest. Responses to protests turned deadly. The confrontations may seem akin to troubles in Latin America, but there the similarities end. Most Latin American countries are much more stable than is Ukraine.
Corruption and lack of security in Latin America and Ukraine are similar, divisive factors. But the greater cultural and political unity of, say, a Brazil, or indeed, of a Cuba, is a major distinguishing factor. What is present, however, in both continents are some awkward, usually futile U.S. attempts at controlling peoples and events we don’t fully understand. Moreover, we seem, once again, to persist in trying to dictate terms to countries in both continents. That policy is overreaching. It is likely to exacerbate problems and is doomed to failure.
Would it not be a much better policy to “put our own house in order?” That is, we need to repair relations in this hemisphere damaged by long years of intervention and, in the case of Cuba, cessation of relations, embargo, even assassination attempts against their governmental leaders. Disagreements over economic philosophy are not adequate justifications for the rupture of normal diplomatic and business relations.
More than preachy, often hypocritical admonitions for Russia and Russian allies in Ukraine, far better for U.S. leaders to teach by example. We must break from the over fifty years of non-negotiation with our own neighbor, Cuba, the resulting divisions of families. Our own President must begin with recognition. The Congress must follow with cessation of hostilities. Only then can more fair, balanced, mutually beneficial policies be developed.
The time to move is now. We can do it here. We can do it there. Cuba is quite ready for change. President Putin has shown signs of compromise, putting on hold movement of troops and even suggesting Ukraine can go ahead with its economic pact with the European Union. Those two countries are forever linked. “Russia without Ukraine is a country; Russia with Ukraine is an empire” (Dan Drezner, Foreign Policy). We must recognize reality.
The same linkage could be claimed of the U.S. and Cuba. But, in both cases, the goal should be the Spanish phrase “juntos pero no revueltos, “or “together but not scrambled.” Much better for both pairs of neighbors to be awkward allies and trade partners than hostile entities. Russia should not enforce its will on its neighbors. Neither should the U.S. When the world sees our hypocrisy, we lose esteem and, thus, lose power.
If such an “impossible dream” of reconstruction is not feasible right now, at the very least the U.S. cannot, should not, must not listen to our own right-wing war-hawks and provoke more military actions. The four past U.S. Ambassadors to Ukraine agree: “no troops, only statements.” Yes, it is true many in Ukraine helped the Nazis. (Are we on the wrong side)? It is true anti-Semitism is still prominent (“Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine,” Timothy Snyder, The New York Review of Books).
But it is also true that Ukrainian units were the first liberators of the death camps of Auschwitz. Ukrainians are split among themselves, and must work out their own problems. New elections are scheduled for February 2015. The U.S. as well as Russia should encourage more, not less democracy. Russia as well as the U.S. should not be the “pot calling the kettle black.”
Why must the great powers add to Ukrainian divisions? Causes? Oil? Geo-politics? Egos and internal posturing? All are partly to blame. But no sane, reasonable leadership in the U.S. or Russia would want to increase tensions or to risk more bloodshed over these disagreements. They must be seen as solvable. But the results must come through old-fashioned, negotiated settlements. They must include participation of all appropriate parties. They must aim for, in Henry Kissinger’s words, not “absolute satisfaction” but “balanced dissatisfaction.”
Note: The above quote (Charlie Rose Show) is the only phrase on the subject from Kissinger with which I feel comfortable. His previous sabotage of peace talks with Hanoi and bellicose advice to President Nixon prolonged that war, leading to the deaths of thousands of Americans and millions of Vietnamese. Kissinger’s current successor as Secretary of State, John Kerry, opined: “the time is past for one nation to impose its will by force on another.”
That must have sounded hollow to Iraqis, Afghanis and, in the past, countless others in Latin America. But “Hear, Hear!” Let us hope the U.S. administration now takes its own advice to heart for Cuba and the rest of Latin America, as well as for Central Europe and Russia. Or, to modify another famous proverb: “what’s bad for the goose is bad for the gander.”
Dr. Gary Joe Mounce is a political science professor at the University of Texas-Pan American. His columns appear regularly in the Rio Grande Guardian.