Chapter 18 - Taking on Soviet-Cuban Imperialism in Latin America and Africa

[Insurgent Dynamics] The Soviets have been working closely with the Cubans to consolidate the Sandinista regime; both share the view that Nicaragua is central to promoting leftist gains elsewhere in Central America. The Cubans have also served as intermediaries with insurgent groups elsewhere in Central America and with the radical Bishop regime in Grenada. Moscow prefers that Havana take the lead in advancing regional revolutionary causes—in deference to Castro’s understanding of local political dynamics and longstanding involvement with revolution in Latin America; because Cuba is a hemispheric, Spanish-speaking power; and to shield the USSR against any backlash from the United States and from the larger Latin American countries where it has a bilateral stake. (heading added)13

4. Reagan Presses for his New Strategy—1982, 1983

During late 1982 and throughout 1983, opposition from the Soviet Union, the U.S. Congress, and national media increased against Reagan’s tough new anti-Communist global strategy, notably including his support of pro-democracy, anti-Communist resistance efforts in Latin America. Instead of folding, however, Reagan and his team stepped-up their high-stakes efforts to assure decisions, direction, and information that would enable the success of the new U.S. strategy.

Presidential decision directives and statements as well as a series of detailed public diplomacy reports focused on exposing Soviet-Cuban ideology, “active measures,” and warfare especially in Nicaragua and El Salvador. It became ever clearer that what the Communists called “liberation wars” in fact were fought to impose revolutionary Marxist-Leninist regimes rather than to reform and support governments attempting to move in the direction of reform, democracy, and law.

Directive on Cuba and Central America—October 1982. An important Presidential directive of this period was NSDD 59—Cuba and Central America, issued on October 5, 1982, some weeks after a National Security Planning Group meeting of September 24, 1982. Other than an opening reference to “the need for a sustained and adequately funded effort, and the need to take into account the possibilities of escalation of the conflict in the region,” the substantive content of analyses and decisions has been redacted in the declassified text—an indication that special sensitivities were involved.

Reagan Letter to Venezuelans—November 1982. A public Reagan Letter to Venezuelans, dated November 5, 1982, responds to a letter from more than 200 Venezuelan intellectuals and political leaders opposing “interventionism that threatens . . . self-determination . . . and impedes . . . popular and democratic development” and peace. Reagan points to:

two fundamental causes of the conflict in Central America: economic, social and political under-development and the violent exploitation . . . by Cuba, Nicaragua and the Soviet Union. . . . Together with Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico and Canada we are attempting to promote economic development . . . through the Caribbean Basin Initiative [with $350 million in emergency supplemental funds]. . . . Honduras and El Salvador have held free and fair elections in the last year, as did . . . Costa Rica and Columbia. . . . [We] are hosting a Conference on Free Elections . . . [and are making] efforts for regional peace and democracy. . . . The commitment to democracy, self-sustaining economic development and non-intervention which we share does not, however, characterize the action of Nicaragua, Cuba and the Soviet Union.14

NSC Meeting—November 1982. Reagan’s first foreign trip of his presidency was to Mexico in October 1982 and is briefly referenced in Topic 11 of this chapter. A second Reagan trip to Latin America (November 30—December 4) is discussed in an NSC meeting NSC 67—Issues and Objectives for President’s Latin America Trip on November 23, 1982. It addresses three major issues for the trip: support for democracy, economic development, and peace and security. The last point includes Brazil’s strategic importance, Colombia (drugs), and Central America—where “the fat is in the fire.”15 Reagan’s itinerary included Brazil (Brasilia and Sao Paulo), Colombia (Bogota), Costa Rica (San Jose), and Honduras (San Pedro Sula).

Latin America in NSDD 75—January 1983. Reagan’s foundational policy directive on his overall Cold War strategy between the two nuclear superpowers is NSDD 75—U.S. Relations with the USSR, issued on January 17, 1983, and reviewed in Chapter 8 on Reagan’s new strategy as shaped in his first term. The directive’s Latin America section builds on his 1980 campaign platform and early administration decisions and statements reviewed above. It focuses on blocking Soviet-Cuban arms, intelligence, and diplomatic actions that support Marxist insurgencies in Latin America and Africa and includes the following words:

[Book pg. 430]