Turkey embroiled in Latin American disputes to U.S. consternation

Turkey has become as an important, but confusing, actor in Latin America, engaging with authoritarian regimes in the region, such as Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba to the consternation of its NATO ally, the United States.

This has come precisely at a time when the Trump administration intends to revive the 1823 Monroe Doctrine, a U.S. policy that discourages international interference in Latin America from other states and which is widely seen in the region as justification for armed U.S. intervention.

While these authoritarian regimes welcome the presence and influence of Turkey, the United States is struggling to understand why a NATO ally is cozying up to countries antagonistic towards Washington  

One of the factors is Turkey’s growing relationship with Russia and greater Russian influence on Turkish decision-makers After long decades of cordial but limited relations, Turkey has decided to develop its relations with Moscow’s main strategic allies in Latin America.

The other factor is Turkey’s desire to assert its independence from U.S. influence at a time when the Turkish government is at odds with the United States over a range of issues, including the purchase of Russian arms and U.S. support for Syrian Kurdish forces.

Turkish leaders see their closer ties with Latin American countries as conveying the message that Turkey is an independent country and will not allow Washington to dictate which countries it aligns with.

The Turkish government has accordingly inserted itself into the political crisis in Venezuela, where President Nicolás Maduro has been locked in a bitter struggle for power with the opposition since January. The United States has supported the opposition against Maduro, who is backed by Russia, Iran and his Latin American allies.

Turkey has never had strong relations with Venezuela, but President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has nevertheless emerged as a staunch supporter of Maduro and extended a lifeline to the embattled leader. U.S. Treasury says that Venezuela last year began to send gold to Turkey for the proceeds to be laundered and used to both import Turkish foodstuffs to Venezuela and enrich “a vast corruption network” enabling Maduro and his regime to profit from food imports and distributionThe U.S. Treasury last week imposed sanctions on a Turkey-based Venezuelan company for being linked to what it said were “transactions involving deceptive practices or corruption”.

Turkey's interest in developing relations with anti-American governments in “America's backyard”is not limited to Venezuela. Ankara recently hosted Bolivian President Evo Morales and the Nicaraguan foreign minister. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also visited Cuba in May, where he denounced U.S. sanctions on Cuba and pledged to develop bilateral relations.

While U.S. pressure is mounting against Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, what the Trump administration has called a “troika of tyranny”, Turkey is engaged in deepening its ties with these countries and their populist leaders. Turkey’s enthusiasm could also go beyond symbolic cooperation as it has with Venezuela.

Erdoğan’s increasing distrust of the United States means that Washington’s ability to work with Turkey is likely to continue to dwindle not only in the Middle East, but also in Latin America.



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