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

Reagan’s First NSC Directive on Latin America—January 1982. NSDD 17—Cuba and Central America, issued on January 4, 1982, is Reagan’s earliest presidential NSC Decision Directive on Latin America. In view of the mounting Soviet/Cuban threat to the principles and hopes for democracy, freedom, and peace in the region, and subsequently declassified, NSDD 17 affirms a number of presidential decisions for a new U.S. strategy there:

[Defending Democracy and Peace] U.S. policy toward the Americas is characterized by strong support for those nations which embrace the principles of democracy and freedom for their people in a stable and peaceful environment. U.S. policy is therefore to assist in defeating the insurgency in El Salvador, and to oppose actions by Cuba, Nicaragua, or others to introduce into Central America heavy weapons, troops from outside the region, trained subversives, or arms and military supplies for insurgents.

[Decisions] To adequately support U.S. policy, the following decisions have been made by the President based on discussion at the November 16, 1981 meeting of the National Security Council: 1. Create a public information task force to inform the public and Congress of the critical situation in the area. 2. Economic support . . . estimate[d] $250 to $300 million FY 1982 supplemental. 3. . . . increase military assistance to El Salvador and Honduras . . . 4. Provide military training for indigenous units and leaders both in and out of country. 5 . . . 6. Maintain trade and credit to Nicaragua as long as the government permits the private sector to operate effectively. . . . 8. Encourage cooperative efforts to defeat externally supported insurgency by pursuing a multilateral step-by-step approach. 9. Support democratic forces in Nicaragua.7

Second NSDD. NSDD 21—Responding to Floggers in Cuba was issued on January 29, 1982 in response to the stationing of advanced Soviet “Flogger” (MiG–23) aircraft in Cuba, flown by Soviet pilots and capable of reaching far into U.S. territory. The extensively redacted text indicates that the President’s State of the Union address would address threats and responses in the region and that another presidential speech on the dangerous situation will be prepared by an interagency management group to meet in the White House Situation Room and to be chaired by the Department of State.

NSC Meeting on Threats and U.S. Strategy—February 1982. An NSC Meeting on the subject NSC 40—The Caribbean Basin on February 10, 1982 was opened by the new National Security Advisor, Judge William Clark, with the words: “after a year’s work, we have reached a plateau where we can consider a comprehensive political, economic, and security policy for the region . . . the first one since the elaboration of the Monroe Doctrine.” He listed as chief instigators Cuba and the Soviet Union as well others including Nicaragua, Grenada, Vietnam, Libya, and within the PLO that together shaped “the threat to the Caribbean . . . unprecedented in severity and proximity and complexity.” The U.S. approach, he said, “must match and exceed our adversaries . . . [through] a long-term commitment to political and economic development while strengthening the internal security of the Caribbean region countries—ensuring at the same time that hostile and totalitarian forces are defeated.”

The redacted notes next indicate briefings by senior agency representatives on the topics: “Intelligence Update, Military Threat/Military Requirements, Economic Requirements, and Regional Strategy.” These are followed by extensive discussions on each topic and the elements of the strategy, including use of forums like the Organization of the American States (OAS) as well as the content of a speech by Reagan to mobilize opinion and support. Near the end of the meeting Reagan is reported saying:

I would not want history to record that there was a time when we could have headed off this hemisphere becoming an extension of the Warsaw Pact. Lenin may then turn out to have been right when he said that someday the Western hemisphere would be ripe fruit after Europe.8

     A Note on the War in the Falklands/Malvinas—April 1982. The war between the United Kingdom and Argentina over a British colony, which the British called the Falklands and the Argentines called the Malvinas, was not part of the U.S.-Soviet confrontation in the Cold War. Yet it caused a major division among America’s allies in the Western Hemisphere and within Reagan’s cabinet. Reagan overruled his Secretary of State, Alexander Haig, by supporting the British decision to send a naval flotilla, which defeated Argentina’s forces that seized the Falklands on April 2, 1982. In terms of Cold War strategy impact, the war cemented the close relationship between Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as they rallied European allies in 

[Book pg. 427]