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

After ten days of crisis that might have led to nuclear war, the U.S. photo evidence and strong U.S. diplomatic and military responses forced Khrushchev to back down. The Soviet Union withdrew its 62 SS–4 missiles and 134 nuclear warheads as well as some of its 17,000 military personnel from Cuba. As part of a long-secret U.S.-Soviet arrangement, Kennedy ordered the withdrawal of all U.S. intermediate-range Jupiter ballistic missiles from Turkey and promised the Soviet Union the United States would not invade Cuba.

Stepped-Up Soviet-Cuban Imperialism—1960s to the 1970s. While war between the nuclear superpowers was avoided during the Cuban missile crisis, it marked an extremely serious Cold War confrontation with major long-term consequences. The crisis not only demonstrated the aggressive intentions of the Soviet Union and its Cuban proxies, but also assured the survival of Castro’s Communist regime ninety miles off U.S. shores. It also demonstrated the unstable nature of the U.S. Cold War nuclear deterrence doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) and its inability to provide effective deterrence against aggressive Soviet regional moves. Over the next two decades, particularly in the 1970s “détente” period, Cuba became a base for Soviet forces and Cuban military and intelligence subversion throughout the Western Hemisphere and as far away as Africa.

 Chile—1973. The 1973 coup against left-Socialist president Salvador Allende, referenced earlier, and in which the U.S. had a covert role, remains a matter of controversy. Allende had won about a narrow (36.6%) victory in the popular vote over his closest rival (at 35.3%) in a three-way election in 1970. He increased this to 43.3% in 1972, but radicalized his economic and political policies and roused massive public discontent, unrest and strikes. He was thought to be planning further radicalization and to be susceptible to a takeover by the militant Revolutionary Left Movement, the MIR, closely allied with, and receiving significant arms and direction, from Castro’s Cuba. In May 1973, the Chilean Supreme Court unanimously judged the Allende government to be in a state of “disruption of the legality of the nation.” In August, a resolution by the Chamber of Deputies declared the government as seeking to gain “absolute power to subject all citizens to the strictest political and economic control by the state . . . and establishing a totalitarian system” and setting up government-protected armed groups for confrontation with the armed forces. A military coup of September 11, 1973, (in which Allende died by suicide), led to a dictatorship under General August Pinochet that killed and imprisoned thousands during its 18 years of rule until ended by a national referendum pushed by President Reagan and other international leaders. Pinochet lost, democratic civilian rule was reestablished, and Chile’s vigorous market economy was continued.

Prime Soviet-Cuban Targets in Africa. At the same time as pro-Communist, Soviet-supported insurgencies were being waged in the Caribbean region, the Soviet Union also brought Cuban forces and radical Soviet-Middle Eastern allies into active warfare in Africa, some 8,000 miles away. Starting in the mid-1970s the Soviets transported, armed, advised, and actively supported 30,000 to 40,000 Cuban soldiers and advisors across the Atlantic Ocean to fight pro-communist “liberation” wars in Mozambique and Angola.

Cuban-Soviet Aggression—Caribbean. In the late 1970s period of accelerating U.S. détente policy confusion during the Carter presidency, the Kremlin and Castro increased their threats to U.S. and regional security. The Soviet strategic militarization of Cuba included construction of a major Soviet submarine base at Cienfuegos, installation of a giant Soviet intelligence listening facility at Lourdes, the arrival of advanced Soviet MIG aircraft and pilots at Cuban bases, and dispatch of a Soviet combat brigade. Intelligence and insurgency training also increased with the annual Soviet subsidy to Cuba estimated at over $4 billion, a sum Castro unsuccessfully sought to disguise as payments for sugar. No effective responses were produced by the Carter administration, notwithstanding the reality of new Soviet combat threats such as those summarized in a Carter Address on Soviet Troops in Cuba and an attached White House fact sheet issued on October 1, 1979.

Prime Soviet-Cuban Targets in the Western Hemisphere—Nicaragua. In the late 1970s, three countries in the region faced a particularly strong Communist threat. In the first, Nicaragua, a Soviet-Cuban supported Communist group, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), came to power on July 19, 1979 as part of a coalition of parties that overthrew the dictator Anastasio Somoza and formed a new Provisional Government. With the strong support of the United States and the Organization of American States (OAS), the new government promised the Nicaraguan people and the OAS that it would undertake extensive political, social, and economic reforms. Yet, as Castro had done in Cuba with Soviet support, the Sandinistas consolidated a Marxist-Leninist regime that rapidly crushed all anti-Communist political elements in the coalition, while ignoring its solemn promises to the OAS to hold free elections and protect human rights.

[Book pg. 423]