Cuba’s China Card and Pan-Islamism in Latin America
by Eric Ehrmann
A real sweet deal last week featuring interest-free loans between China and Cuba is redoubling the influence of president Hu Jintao in Latin America and the Caribbean.
While little talked about here, Chinese news agencies were reporting widely on their government’s fawning over Cuban president Raul Castro, in his first official visit to China to meet Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao.
In Beijing, China agreed to support Cuba’s development of technology and health services and Hu also called for more cooperation in trade, energy and biotechnology and promised to open a zero percent interest line of credit to support Cuban agriculture.
Trade between China and Cuba has grown from $590 million in 2004 to $1.8 billion in 2010, making China now Cuba’s biggest trading partner after Venezuela.
With Beijing showing Iran-friendly Cuba as its regional face card, the China-Cuba alliance could disrupt the space where Israel and China operate their sensitive military and high tech channels, which are always a bone of contention with Washington.
From Mexico southward, the adoption of Cuba by China also complicates relations between Tel Aviv and South American nations who host large Jewish populations and officially support nuclear cooperation with Tehran and Havana under the aegis of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
The realpolitik that hovers above the non-proliferation conversations indicates that in spite of the Dirty War in South America, Iran-Contra and its Saudi backing from the likes of billionaire Adnan Khashoggi, and the job creation generated by Washington’s multi-billion dollar War on Drugs, half a century of Made in Cuba revolutionary politics continues to have political currency in Latin America.
Not because the revolution was successful – Fidel has acknowledged the failings of his economic programs – but because its ritual behaviors challenge the rules of the Inter-American System dominated by Washington and its regional apologists.
What’s different with the China card is that the face of “Che” Guevara is no longer on the T-shirt. It’s not Chairman Mao or Osama Bin Laden either. The new icon for Latin America’s Next-Gen troublemakers is the Mullah’s virtual Man in Havana, Iranian political leader Ahmadinejad.
Ahmadinejad wins the respect of struggling Latin Americans because he stands up to Washington better than his friends in Ecuador, Venezuela and Nicaragua do. And his Iranian media team is savvy enough to know that softening his image with a pair of sunglasses will get him 100,000 more views on the Internet where the nation branding game is played.
The Obama White House provides disingenuous public diplomacy that invites Ahmadinejad to act out while the Pentagon quietly implements a military-track Latin security structure with regional shared base agreements similar to its growing Africa Command.
Tough talk from Washington about slapping China with fines for its sanction-busting purchases of Iranian oil subsided after Hillary Clinton’s state department white-listed Beijing, along with Japan, Turkey and Italy, citing their efforts to reduce their use.
Efforts to position these developments as a “back to the future” Cold War political dynamic are a misstep. Using the old paradigm masks the broader long term agenda of pan-Islamist clerics who see Latin America, with its large Middle Eastern and Afro-descendant population as a long term “win back” in the theocratic struggle for hearts and minds.
Some scholars examining slave rebellions in the 19th century Brazilian Empire credit followers of Islam with leading oppressed slaves to emancipation. Others point to the Catholic Church’s successful domination of the South American continent centuries before. But the hard-line, revolutionary, anti-U.S. mix could be explosive for Jewish interests, internationally.
In Paraguay, where populist president Fernando Lugo was recently impeached for failing to respect the interests of international landowners, right wing politicians are calling for a return to the strong-arm policies of the late dictator general Alfredo Stroessner, which included unofficial anti-Semitism.
Stroessner, who took power in a 1954 coup with the tacit support of the government of the United States, provided sanctuary to Holocaust war criminal “angel of death” Dr. Josef Mengele. Today, themes like Jewishness, the Holocaust and anti-Semitism are almost totally forgotten concepts in the region.
Ciudad del Este (formerly known as Puerto Stroessner), the Paraguay smugglers’ paradise across the Parana River from Brazil, has long been a mecca for financial dealings that support proxy terror group Hizbollah.
The long U.S.-Mexico border may offer proxy terror groups a similar haven. Throwing sunshine on the situation along the Texas-Mexico frontier, Tom Reed, former head of the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and secretary of the Air Force has written a Tom Clancy-style novel called The Tehran Triangle that discusses proxy terror groups in the Juarez-El Paso metropolitan area. Washington says that these connections simply don’t exist. But senior U.S. officials have made similar statements before.
Chinese and Taiwanese interests, which operate prosperous businesses on both sides of the Parana and the Rio Grande, some of which are believed to front for ground level intelligence gathering activities, watch with interest.
On the El Paso side of the Rio Grande there is a Holocaust Museum. On the Brazil side of the Parana, there is a large Mosque.