By the author of Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City and The Ultimate Survival Gear Handbook.
With the escalation of events surrounding the war in Ukraine sucking all the oxygen in the room at the moment, it’s easy to forget about the disputes and conflicts flaring up in various other places around the world. One of these quarrels is heating up at the border between Colombia and Venezuela and involves both the US/NATO and Russia, with the real possibility of a Venezuela-Colombian war.
NATO? In South America?
Yes, it’s a mess of a situation with hints of a throwback to the post-WW2 Cold War period, plot twists, and a coat of modern, multifaceted unconventional warfare. But it has the potential to destabilize South America and even connect with the contention going on in Ukraine and Eastern Europe at some point in the future. Not to mention the possibility of a Cuban Missile Crisis 2.0, which would directly affect the US.
A brief history of the Russia-Venezuela alliance
Russia has supported the leftist Bolivarian government of Venezuela since 1999 when former president Hugo Chavez took office and took the once-richest South American country on a communist trip.
Just like the deals with Cuba and Nicaragua decades prior, the alliance includes financial, political, diplomatic, and commercial agreements. From the very beginning, the goal of the Kremlin was to establish another pro-Russian ally in the western hemisphere, and specifically, in South America.
Beyond direct financial support, these agreements include the trading of commodities, weapons, and even nuclear technology for non-military uses (i.e., energy). And, of course, there was oil. Rosneft has helped Venezuela circumvent the restrictions levied by the US and its allies on the communist dictatorship.
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The propaganda machine
Russia uses its RT (Russia Today) channel and local Sputnik news agencies (among a host of underground organizations) for their targeted-for-Latin America pro-Kremlin propaganda.
That’s no different from tactics used by western media and the US government, really. The bottom line is that both sides are trying to spread their messages and impose their agendas, with the ultimate goal of increasing political, ideological, strategic, and commercial influence.
This Cold War warfare never really ceased to exist.
It just went somewhat dormant with the fall of the USRR and the advent of globalization in the early 1990s. With the issues brought by the plandemic and the swelling of western-eastern disputes, the Cold War is seemingly back en vogue and in full force again.
It’s impossible to know for sure what is information, misinformation, and disinformation in this nuclear exchange of narratives and ideological propaganda. So, before we dive in, try to read beyond the words and news. Take declarations from both parts (official or otherwise) by both sides with not just a grain but an entire bag of salt.
And remember: what matters is that history shows that’s how nations prepare and build up for actual wars. This is usually the first stage. The second is commercial and financial war – which we’re already deep into as well. Time will tell if we’re headed for another global conflict.
Latin America geopolitics: always a very complex (and oftentimes crazy) game.
In February, Nicolás Maduro declared that “Russia has the entire support of the Bolivarian Republic for its military intervention in Ukraine.” He also endorsed “the path for a powerful military cooperation between Russia and Venezuela” (his own words), showing the intentions of Russia to help arm the country.
These declarations were given during a visit of Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov to Caracas, Havana (Cuba), and Managua (Nicaragua).
In March, after a visit of US officials to Venezuela, Maduro changed his position quite radically, coming to the point of declaring being “united with the US.”
After US officials flew to Venezuela to hold rare talks about breaking the country’s longstanding Russian influence, Nicolas Maduro changed his tone on the Ukraine war (SOURCE)
Now that’s an odd twist right there. Sudden shifts in mood and position are common to banana republic regimes and dictatorships caught between superpower disputes. But one can only wonder what transpired during this “rare” encounter.
As telling as these swings may be, they shouldn’t be a surprise or concerning.
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It’s other recent events and initiatives involving US and Russia in Latin America that deserve attention.
In April, Sputnik Brazil agency published an article highlighting the US efforts to co-opt Colombia into NATO. As odd as this may sound, the Biden administration actually announced Colombia as a “major non-member ally” of NATO in early March 2022.
The article goes on to call Colombia the “Ukraine of Latin America,” speculating the country would be militarized and used to defend American interests in the region. The Venezuelan Defense Minister then called Colombia a “NATO and US puppet,” citing it could be turned into a springboard to invade Venezuela.
This promptly led local and foreign analysts to question: Is this a Cold War reboot, with US and Russia exerting diplomatic, commercial, and economic courtship (or more direct pressures) to shift associations and fetch support? Or are both powers actually setting up the stage to wage another proxy war, this time in Latin America?
The situation on the Venezuela-Colombia border
Early this year, both countries increased their military presence at the border between the states of Arauca and Apure, where a dispute between two previously allied groups broke out over control of territory and illegal activities in the region.
According to Human Rights Watch, thousands have been displaced due to fighting between the Joint Eastern Command (a coalition of dissident groups that emerged from the demobilized FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN).
Members from both sides have been committing abuses and acts against the civilian population. Killings, compulsory recruitment, kidnappings, and forced displacement have become frequent and keep increasing in number and brutality. Venezuelan security forces have conducted joint operations with ELN fighters and been complicit in their actions.
Colombian president Iván Duque accuses the Venezuelan government of being conniving with the action of the guerrillas, while the Bolivarian regime of Nicolas Maduro blames the Colombian armed groups of invading the Venezuelan territory. Hmmm…
Where the rubber meets the road
So, is it possible that this situation in the Arauca-Apure region is being strategically manipulated and provoked? Are the paramilitary and guerrilla groups being used to spark a national conflict between the US and Russian allies?
It’s certainly possible, so maybe the question is how likely. I’m no expert in geopolitics, but it’s hard not to see a connection between the declarations, events, manipulations, and interferences narrated above and the on-the-ground developments at the border of Venezuela and Colombia.
The upcoming presidential election in Colombia is also set to make things even more volatile. Especially with the rumors of Russia trying to interfere and manipulate the process. Nothing has been proved, but the American audience might have an opinion or two about this aspect, so I’ll leave it at that.
Crises lead to insanity. Insanity leads to SHTF.
Western democracy is in a deep crisis of its own making. Eastern powers (i.e., Russia and China) are also in their own hell. Heck, the entire world is up to the eyeballs with problems of all sorts. Everywhere is volatile.
But that won’t stop ideological warfare from raging on. In fact, it’s during these times that the efforts to win hearts, minds, and actual support get intensified. We’ve entered the age of widespread conflict. Expect more of it to pop up in all corners of the globe.
This whole mess makes one wonder: if the situation in eastern Europe prolongs or comes to an impasse, what are the odds of Russia turning to Latin America and opening another hot stage with Venezuela and Colombia? What would be the response of the US and NATO? This sure gives some food for thought.
I’ve been following the development of this situation for two reasons.
One, because both Venezuela and Colombia have borders with Brazil (my home). A larger or more serious conflict has the potential to destabilize the region and, in some way, shape, or form, my country as well.
The second reason is that this can lead to even more complex developments in Europe, but also with the US.
For instance, if Colombia gets armed and militarized by the US and NATO, Russia could do the same with Venezuela. Given the recent change of tone, it’s not yet clear what’s the position of the Bolivarian government in the matter of Russia and Ukraine. It could change again at any moment, so this is sort of a question mark for the time being.
The possibility of nuclear weapons being installed in the northern part of South America by a US enemy, close to US territory, could lead to another Missile Crisis (the distance between Venezuela and Florida is a mere 2.837 km (1762 miles).
This would be an extreme scenario, admittedly. But crazy seems to be the new normal, so there’s that.
One thing is for sure: beyond the barrage of declarations, narratives, and propaganda, there’s something tangible happening between Colombia and Venezuela. And it’s not good.
It has crossed the sphere of ideological manipulation and political interference and taken physical form in the conflicts at the border. These are already affecting large swaths of the population through the action of violent paramilitary and guerrilla groups. And it clearly involves both Russia and the US.
I’ve recently come across a very interesting and thought-provoking piece by Guido Torres in the Small Wars Journal about non-linear warfare. The author asks if Russia is waging a silent war in Latin America and goes at length to dissect the new approach of the once-URSS to regain its superiority after the fall of the Soviet Empire in 1991.
The quote at the opening, a declaration by Chief of the General Staff of Russia Gal. Valero Gerasimov gives the tone of the article: “The very ‘rules of war’ have changed. The role of non-military means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and, in many cases, they have exceeded the power of force of weapons in their effectiveness.”
I highly suggest the read to anyone interested in an insightful perspective on modern warfare, military strategy, and geopolitics in general. While everyone expects China to take prominence on the post-pandemic global stage, it’s the invasion of Ukraine and the military advances of Russia that are currently taking the spotlight and posing more critical questions.
What are your thoughts on the matter? Let us know in the comments below.
Fabian Ommar is a 50-year-old middle-class worker living in São Paulo, Brazil. Far from being the super-tactical or highly trained military survivor type, he is the average joe who since his youth has been involved with self-reliance and outdoor activities and the practical side of balancing life between a big city and rural/wilderness settings. Since the 2008 world economic crisis, he has been training and helping others in his area to become better prepared for the “constant, slow-burning SHTF” of living in a 3rd world country.
Fabian’s ebook, Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City , is a practical training method for common city dwellers based on the lifestyle of the homeless (real-life survivors) to be more psychologically, mentally, and physically prepared to deal with the harsh reality of the streets during normal or difficult times. He’s also the author of The Ultimate Survival Gear Handbook.
You can follow Fabian on Instagram @stoicsurvivor