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Mario Bucaro: We're not 'agents of influence', we're allies of Ukraine in Latin America

Mario Bucaro: We're not 'agents of influence', we're allies of Ukraine in Latin America Guatemalan Foreign Minister Mario Bucaro (Photo: Vitalii Nosach, RBC-Ukraine)

In an interview with RBC-Ukraine, Mario Bucaro, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala, expressed his view of the Ukrainian summit with Latin America, Russian influence in the region, the attitude of Guatemalans toward Ukraine, and assistance to Kyiv in the war with Russia.

Guatemala can undoubtedly be called Ukraine's biggest ally in Latin America. In particular, it was the first to join the coalition to create a Special Tribunal for Russia and recalled its ambassador from Moscow after the barbaric invasion of Ukraine.

As the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mario Bucaro, stated, his country's position is connected to the fact that Guatemalans stand for democratic values and always strive to be on the right side of history.

- Your country is very far from Ukraine, both geographically and also in an informational aspect. Obviously, the agenda is very different in our countries. So, does the news about the Russian invasion of Ukraine appear in your media? And do common Guatemalans know something about Ukraine, about our war with Russia? Did they know something before the full-scale invasion started?

- Yes, definitely. After COVID we realized that the world is interconnected. We're integrated and live in a globalized world. But especially when there are things like war and people are suffering, like what we are seeing in this terrible war, Guatemalans are there because we're a country of peace, because we used to have a war that lasted for 36 years. So we know what it is to suffer. And what we have promoted around the world is peace and peacekeeping. Our peacekeeping forces are the fifth largest in Latin America.

And when this terrible news started to appear, the President instructed us as soon as possible, in February, to contact my peer, Dmytro Kuleba, and try to be able to say: how can we help? And then we became the voice of Ukraine, not only to the world but also to Guatemala.

Mario Bucaro: We're not 'agents of influence', we're allies of Ukraine in Latin America- What about common people? Do they read in the media news about Russian aggression, the situation on the battlefield, and so on?

- Every day we receive this news throughout the media, on TV, in the press, on social media. And also we need to realize that we also have been affected because the prices of many commodities and food have risen because of this terrible war. So this war affects us all.

- And if people know about the war, whom do they mostly support?

- Definitely, Ukraine. We always want to be on the right side of history because we believe in peace, but also because this is wrongful aggression by Russia. And that's the thing that we have been raising our voices about all over the world. We completely support Ukraine and the opportunity to live in freedom.

And that's important for us also, because, on the first trip, we came with solidarity. Today we come with tangible results of what we have. Russia has been expelled from almost 50 organizations. We were very grateful to be the ones that led that. So Russia was expelled from OAS, the Organization of American States. And also we're leading the tribunal to be able to bring to justice those responsible for war crimes. That's the reason that I visited Bucha today. Last year I was at the church and I saw what happened in Bucha.

- What are the current relations between your country and the Russian Federation, taking into account the former USSR's support to so-called guerrillas in your country? Quite recently, there were some issues with the vaccines that Russia promised to sell you but failed to fulfill its obligations.

- When we became aware of the war and everything that happened, we brought our ambassador to the capital. So that's a symbol of the lowest point of our relationship with Russia. Then many of the OFAC freezing of assets and funds that Russia has in different countries, especially in the mining sector, were affected. So we were able to make that possible also. This is not against the people of Russia per se, but due to the decisions of their government. So our relationship is at its lowest point right now.

- In the final communique of a recent EU-CELAC summit Russian aggression against Ukraine was not condemned. According to media reports Cuba and Nicaragua were against this. So in your opinion, why did they do so and why couldn't the other 30 members of CELAC manage to convince them to include these wordings in the final communique?

- Well, as you know every decision that we make in CELAC is through consensus. If one of the countries opposed, everyone would be affected. But in this case, I'm a witness that we all pushed to be able to make this a reality. And I truly believe that you need to not only hear the final declaration but also hear the speeches of each and every one of the heads of states that were there at the summit. At the summit, you could hear the speech of Guatemala. We were very vocal in declaring the aggression from Russia, demanding to stop those issues and demanding peace. So despite the fact that the declaration had such wording, the commitment of all the European countries and Latin American countries is vivid and tangible.

- During the war with Russia, Ukraine needs not only financial, humanitarian, and military support but also diplomatic one. Is it correct to say that your country has become a sort of 'agent of influence' of Ukraine in your region? And is it possible in general to oppose heavy Russian influence there? It is based on some historical relations, some ideological sympathies and stereotypes, and probably also on some corruption of the Latin American elites by Moscow. So is it possible for Ukraine to somehow fight all these factors?

- We are here, and we're showing that it can be done and this is our second trip. Our president has been very clear on that. We will always stand on the side of Ukraine. And the most important thing is that we are not 'agents', we are allies of Ukraine, and we are the voice there in Latin America, and we're bringing more countries like Costa Rica, that now has joined the special tribunal.

Each and every one of us can make a difference, either through social media or our work, to be vocal, to try to pass on what is happening here, and to be able to show what we're seeing on the ground. And that's our commitment. So I truly believe that it can be done. Guatemala is making an example that is not about distance or about the size of the country. We have a voice in the world and we raise the voice for Ukraine.

- In your opinion, what should the Ukrainian government do to win the support of the Global South in general, and Latin America in particular?

I think that we are going on the right pattern and we're working together with the government of Ukraine. The Crimea Platform is a great example that we have. Then we need to be able not to bring it just to the level of government, but to the parliamentary level, then to the expert level, and then to the business side level, because everyone needs to be involved and there needs to be a holistic approach.

Based on that approach, I think the Crimea Platform is a great example to be able to show what we're doing. Additionally, Dmytro Kuleba has been traveling to the region. He's constantly traveling there, he's doing the right things. Dmytro was also invited to come to Guatemala for the ACS meeting. He gave a remarkable speech also to my peers from the region. And I think that this is the way to do it, to be present as we are here, to be able to document what is happening.

- Your country is known for its good relations with the United States. Did this somehow influence the fact that your country is so much involved in supporting Ukraine since the start of the full-scale invasion?

- You're right, we have a great relationship with the United States, but this is completely different from the approach that we have. This is a sovereign decision. If you follow the track of the diplomacy of Guatemala you will see that it is based on values. Our core is based on values. It's not about any type of interest. That's what we do with Taiwan, that's what we do with Israel and that's why we are supporting Ukraine.

Mario Bucaro: We're not 'agents of influence', we're allies of Ukraine in Latin America- Soon there will be the second round of presidential elections in your country and your current president is not taking part in them. May our relations change after these elections? Or your attitude toward the war?

- I don't think so. First of all, the electoral tribunal has already declared last week that the majority of Congress will be on the side of the actual party. Definitely, we will keep the position on defense of Ukraine, promoting peace. Also, we have a parliamentary friendship group that is working already. Then definitely both candidates will need to be able to make their external policy. But the external policy of Guatemala is based on principles and values, based on peace. And I'm pretty sure this will not change.

- So Guatemala already supports Ukraine in many fields, particularly in the diplomatic field. But what about some practical aspects of support, in particular humanitarian or maybe, the most important for us – military help? Are you doing something in this regard? Do you have plans to do something?

- We're talking very closely with the government of Ukraine to make a map of necessities and that's part of my trip today. I have already had meetings in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and also in the Parliament, to be able to see what are the necessities on the ground. The necessities are changing, but obviously, the commitment of the president has been there to be able to support in all the fields, especially in the humanitarian one. So hopefully we can bring good news this year.

- Can we talk about some military aspects, maybe not tanks and not fighter jets, but maybe demining or something like this?

- We are working on the evaluation of all these aspects, especially because we have a long tradition of peacekeeping missions in the world and we also have great experience in demining, solving humanitarian and other issues. We will continue to be able to work on the ground. We will be more than glad to be able to evaluate it with our government.

- Is it possible to hold a Ukraine-Latin America summit in the foreseeable future? This was one of the topics of the recent phone talk between our two presidents.

- Definitely. We want to be able to bring President Zelenskyy to the region as soon as possible. But I hope that the next thing will be the Crimea Platform that will be here. And hopefully in the next months or so we will be able to plan something for Latin America too.

- Ukraine is also interested in establishing economic relations with your region, in particular your country. And what particular fields of economic cooperation with Ukraine is your country interested in?

As you may know, the commercial balance between Guatemala and Ukraine is very active. Actually, Guatemala provides Ukraine with nickel as we are one of the largest producers of nickel in the world. And also we're talking about special commodities and grains. You know that Guatemala is the largest producer of coffee. The troops need coffee, people need coffee.

So I think that it will be one of the highlights. Food security is key, but also training. I think that is important in other fields like special technologies in agricultural, environmental issues. I think that we need to think about the future and Guatemala is ready to support you.