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

Truman Administration in 1947 supported new inter-American institutions focused on the RIO Treaty of Inter-America Mutual Assistance and the establishment of the Organization of American States (OAS) that both included political, economic, and defense dimensions and reforms (see Chapter 3).

 Points of Cold War Conflict in Latin America. While the institutional and policy profile of U.S.-Latin America relations during the Cold War was relatively low, there were several exceptions. One occurred when a covert U.S. role became public involving the U.S.-supported overthrow of the increasingly leftist President of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, during Eisenhower’s presidency in June 1954 (Chapter 3). Second, also during the Eisenhower presidency, was Castro’s revolution in Cuba in 1959 and the rapid imposition of a totalitarian Communist regime resulting in America’s subsequent break in diplomatic relations with Cuba. Third, a critical point in superpower tensions was the Soviet- Cuban missile crisis of October 1962 during Kennedy’s presidency. A fourth point came in April 1965 during the Johnson Administration when the OAS requested the United States and other OAS powers (including forces from Brazil, Paraguay, Honduras, and Costa Rica) to intervene militarily in the Dominican Republic. Fifth was a coup and establishment of a dictatorship in Chile in 1973, led by General Augusto Pinochet and including a covert U.S. role, against the Cuban-supported left-Socialist president Salvador Allende, further reviewed below.

 Latin American Expectations Under “Détente.” In the 1970s period of purported Cold War “détente” between the superpowers, Latin America became a central fighting front in the Cold War as the Soviet Union intensified its work with Cuba in support of far-left to pro-Communist fronts for armed so-called “national liberation war” revolutions throughout Latin America, particularly in the nations of the Caribbean. Both before he became president and as president, Ronald Reagan was one of the few who early took note of this dangerous development. Over strong opposition, especially from the Democratic Party-led U.S. Congress, he developed a far-reaching and ultimately successful strategy in support of ant-Communist resistance forces seeking a path to peace, freedom, and progress.

With the Cuban crises in the past, the Latin American front that intensified in the 1970s was initially less well defined and understood than other contemporary international Cold War fronts discussed in earlier chapters of this book.

Soviet Subversion and Deception and “Active Measures” in Latin America. In Latin America, aggressive Soviet military, intelligence, and economic activities—especially after the early shocks of Castro’s initial Communization programs and Nikita Khrushchev’s 1962 missile confrontation—were carried out largely by covert means that escaped media and even governmental focus in the United States. The Kremlin’s intelligence and military personnel as well as left-wing pro-Communist parties and proxies at work in the region generally masked, and some (like Castro) initially denied, their totalitarian Communist goals under slogans of (pro-Soviet) “anti-Colonialism,” (Marxist-Leninist) “wars of national liberation,” and “people’s” movements or fronts. Under the umbrella of superpower “détente,” the combination of such slogans, Soviet covert “active measures,” and the Soviet coalition model adopted in Cuba made significant inroads in the region at great cost to its prospects for democracy and peace. During the Congressional and media confrontations with Reagan on his new Latin America strategy, his critics generally ignored such key facts and lessons of this history.

Cuba, a Soviet Base—1959. Cuba became the chief base for Soviet activities in Latin America shortly after January 3, 1959 when Fidel Castro entered the Cuban capital, Havana, with the military and diplomatic support of the Soviet Union. Castro led an insurgency against the Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista, who was increasingly pressed by the Eisenhower administration to undertake reforms towards a democratic future. When Castro, his brother Raul, and the Argentine firebrand Ernesto “Che” Guevara took power, they were careful to do so not as Communists, but as reformist “socialist” members of a coalition government, which ranged from democratic anti-communists to covertly pro-Communist radicals. Senior non-Communists in Cuba’s first post-Batista government included the president (Manuel Urrutia), the premier (Jose Cardona), and members of the cabinet. Due to serious concerns about mounting Communist influence, Urrutia resigned in February and Cardona in July. Meanwhile, Castro continued his deception, such as on a visit to America, where on April 17, 1959 he declared that he and his revolution were “humanistic” and his regime was not Communist.

Castro’s Marxist-Leninist State. As in other cases of revolutionary coalitions with Communist elements involving Soviet intelligence and military support, hopes for a democratic Cuba faded rapidly. Soviet KGB and East European personnel (including East German security experts from the notorious Stasi) came to Cuba to reinforce Castro’s Communist cadre in a classic Marxist-Leninist evolution from broad coalition to dicta-

[Book pg. 421]