Cuba and the USA are preparing to open embassies on July 20. Now, 26 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain, pragmatism has triumphed and shifted the balance of power on the continent.
"It is the ultimate end of the Cold War in Latin America," says Oliver Stuenkel, a professor for international relations at "Fundacao Getulio Vargas" University in Sao Paulo. "The issue at hand is no longer communism or capitalism, but instead, pragmatism. The role of the latter is expanding," he points out.
The rapprochement between the USA and Cuba has eased the tensions in Brazilian-US relations. In October 2013, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff cancelled a trip to Washington after it had become known that the NSA had tapped her phone calls for years.
Now it looks as though the trouble has simply evaporated. When Rousseff visited the White House on June 30 of this year, she extolled the restoration of relations between Washington and Havana. "The opening of the embassies will not only renew the bilateral relationship, but also Washington's relationship to all of Latin America," she told the international press during her visit.
As a regional power in South America, Brazil figures importantly in the new balance of political power on the American continent. Venezuela's announcement of the upcoming elections on December 6, for instance, can be attributed to mediation work in Brasilia. Caracas counts among the few ideologically guided governments remaining in the region.
Left-wing but not anti-American
According to South America expert Oliver Stuenkel, "there are no more left-wing politicians who seriously believe" that the country must work against the USA, or should not strive for a strong partnership with Washington. "The economic and political costs of bad communication with the USA are very high in the long term," explains Stuenkel.
While Venezuela still cultivates the image of the American foe , Cuba and other countries are becoming all the more pragmatic, like El Salvador's President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, who, before even assuming office, visited US Secretary of State John Kerry in 2014. During the civil war in his country between 1980 and 1992, Ceren was a guerilla fighting against the military government backed by the USA.
Uruguay's former president and resistance fighter Jose Mujica has also come to terms with the dark past, when the USA supported a brutal military regime as a means of preventing the spread of communism. Mujica agreed that Uruguay would take in six prisoners from Guantanamo Bay.
Fighters lay down arms
The fall of the Latin American wall makes it possible: Columbia's FARC guerillas are in Cuba with representatives of President Juan Manuel Santos' conservative government, negotiating a peaceful end to the civil war that has been going on for 50 years. And in El Salvador, the murdered archbishop and leading member of the liberation theology movement – which was close to left-wing movements - was recently beatified.
But not everyone sees the political benefit of the new pragmatism. Spanish author and publisher Antonio Navalon, who has lived in Mexico since 2005, fears the development of a political vacuum. "The American continent is ideologically orphaned," he wrote in the newspaper "El Pais". The search for a new political orientation and new models is one of the major challenges in the future.
"Before, the USA had two ideologies: the leftist dream in Cuba and the right-wing dream, meaning Uncle Sam and the dictators he backed," writes Navalon. Now there is no political difference between good and evil. Cuba is adapting to capitalism and the USA is pursuing geostrategic interests.
Money from Beijing
Oliver Stuenkel expects that this situation will not change very quickly, even if China's presence in the region expands. "China cannot assume the role of the USA, because the USA exercises important security powers in South America," he clarifies. Furthermore, China is also not interested in this responsibility.
Nonetheless, China has already overtaken the USA's position as number one trade partner in many South American countries. The Chinese have also risen to the role of important investors and moneylenders in Venezuela and Argentina, where access to international capital markets is limited. Observers now critically view the massive export of raw goods to China.
China's growing influence in the region now comes second to the political thawing of relations between Havana and Washington. The next stage - after the reopening of the embassies in July 20 - is ending the US trade embargo against Cuba. Oliver Stuenkel says with certainty that, "The bearing is very clear: It is no longer a matter of 'if' the embargo is lifted, but instead, 'when' it is lifted."