Created: 4/1/1977

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Soviet Interest in Latin America




Soviet Interest in Latin America

Crnttal IntttHgtner Agrntu Dirttierait of tnltlllgmet7

Key Judgments

The Soviet Union has long been interested in increasing ils influence in Latin America, but has had difficulty inuccessful policy for the area. Early attempts by Moscow to use the local communist parties tooothold failed, in part, because the Soviets did not understand the Latin American milieu and had little expertise in Lutin American affairs. Until the earlyhey seemed to assume lhat because of the basic instability of the area, "socialist" revolution was inevitableocal communist party was activated. The basic flaw was their belief lhat Latin America was, und is, overwhelmingly dominated by conservative forces tluit have been unsymputhette to Moscow. Moreover, the urea did not fit the Soviei mold uf revolution In less developed nations. Tlie countries have been Independentong time; they arc culturally and politically developed; theyather extensive educated elite, and for the most part, they arc not attracted to foreign political ideologies and have regarded the Soviet Unionolitical and ideological pariah.

In recent years, however, the Soviets huvc had some success In the area-most dramatically, of course, in Cuba. They have made these gains by shifting their emphasis from local communist party relationships to statc-to-state relations. Soviet prospects are still limited, however, by Moscow's own economic problems and its Inublllty In most cases to provide the Latins with any civilian technology they do not already hove. Soviet successes have been partly the result of growing expertise in Latin American affairselative decline of US influence in the area. Other factors have been the latent anti-US nalionalism present in Latin Americu, the Soviet Union's emergencelobal power with observublc economic, military, nnd politico! cloul, and the survival of Castro's Cuba with Soviet assistance.

There now seems Utile doubt thut the Soviet presence In Latin America will increase In the future, especially as East-West tensions relax. Tlie Soviets are now beginning to view the urea notegion within the US sphere of influence, but as an arena for US-Soviet competition. Although Latin America certainly is not on the "front burner" of Moscow's priorities, the Soviets are not likely to Ignore any opportunity to erode the economic and political power of the US. The Latin Americans' grudging appraisal that they have been overly dependent on (he US for political, economic, and military assistance and should now &cck alternative friends, suppliers, and markets is mode to order for Soviet exploitation.

Tho current economic recession In Ihe West, the increasing effort by ninny Latin notions to use their raw materials as an economic lever against the US, and the curreni Impasse between Washington and much of Latin America over the human rights issue can only encourage Moscow. As long as the Soviets continue their low-key approach to the region, as long as they are willing to cut their losses during periodic reversals such as In Chile, and as long as the US fails to stabilize its own relationship with the Latins, Moscow will be able to make inroads on the still-preponderant US influence in the area.

Soviet Interest in Latin America

Following (ho revolutionhe Soviets hod little time to give much thought to Latin America. Unlike the West European powers and the US, the USSR had no political, economic, or cultural ties with the area. Peruvian political leader Haya de lo Torre, who visited Moscow4 and talked with the new Soviet leaders, was struck by how little they knew about Latin American social conditions. Other Latin American visitors to Moscow come away with similar impressions. Lenin himself had some knowledge of Mexico, but was more interested In the countryource of potential opposition to US imperialism than in the local politics.

Tho Soviet Union's first dlplomotlc incursion Into Latin Amcrlco camehen it established relations with Mexico. Almost immcdlotely. however, the Mexicon government was faced with heavy-handed and crude subversive tactics, and six years later diplomatic relations were severed.

In South America, the Soviets mode their greatest headway in Argentina and Uruguay. The first Latin affiliate with the Communist International was the Argentine party.ruguay recognized the USSR, and in the following year, the Argentines oilowed the Soviets to setrade agency in Buenos Aires. Because of the agency's subversive anrvitles, however, the Argentines closed It

During, the Sovhts were unable to win over any prestigious or popular Latin American political leaders to their cause.owever. Luis Carlosrazilian Involved in the 'Tenentes Movement" was invited to Moscow to be groomed for leadership of the Brazilian Communist Party. Presics" meccss inollowing was shortlived, and6 he was arrested after being Involvedutiny or army units.esult of the uprising, Uruguay-under Brazilian pressure-broke relations with Moscow and protested Soviet attempts lo foment revolution in Latin America.

World War II

The heroic image of Ihe Soviet people during the war and Moscow's alliance with the Western democraciesavorable climate for the renewal of relations between the USSR and Latin America23 Latin American countries established relations with the USSR (mainly because the US encouraged them to doommunist parties were formed in each of theatin American republics. In addition, Communist-front organizations, such as tho World Federation of Trade Unions, the International Federation of Democratic Women, the World Federation of Democratic Youth, the International Union of Students, the International Association of Democratic Jurists, the World Peace Council, and the World Federation of Teachers Unions, became active In the hem.sphere.

None of the parties or front organizations was successful in rallying Latin Americans to communism; yet they did serve to mold public opinion and open channels of communication for the Soviets. By the endhe USSR was formally recognized byatin American nations and appeared to have gained respectability in (he area.

The Old War

The advent of Ihc Cold War7 ushered in yet another era in Soviet-Latin American relations and reversed the good feelings established during World War II. Brazil and Chile broke relations with Moscow initing interference in local affairs. Ecuador subsequently denied that it had ever established relations. Colombia severed tics in8 following communist-inspired riots in Bogota. In June. Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic followed month after Batista came to power. Cuba severed ties. Havana's action was followed by Venezuela under Perez Jimenez. Guatemala broke relations4 shortly after the overthrow of the communist-dominated Arbcnz reajmc, and Bolivia severed its relations the following year.

Thendarked another turnabout In Soviet-Latin American relations. The major breakthrough was the establishment of relations with Castro's Cubather factors contributing to the resurgence of the USSR were the Soviets' obvious military and economic power and their potential for increased trade with the region. The campaign to increase cultural tics between the (wo areas also begun to meet with some success, and many Latins, even though Ihey did not approve of the Soviet government, came to admiro Russian accomplishments In technology and the arts. Gone from the scene, moreover, were most of the crude Soviet tactics of. Soviet representatives now appeared to be genuinely interested in state-to-state contacts as well as In Latin American culture, economics, and politics.

Current Soviet Strategy ond Activity In Latin America

During the post-Stalin era, the Soviets have tried toiche tor themsclves-dlplomatically, economically, and culturally-in the Third World.hrushchev outlined this policy and made particular reference to the Third World for waging the key battle against colonialism and imperialism.

Ath Party Congresshich is best remembered for its approval of the larger concept of detente with the Wist, Premier Kosygin announced, "In the coming five-year period, the further expansion of the USSR's foreign economic tics with the developing countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America ishese ties were to be established on the basistate-tc-statc relationship. The conspiratorial approach that had dominated Soviet policy In the early days was largely abandoned. Although the Soviets keep inouch with the local communist parties, there have been few examples in recent years where this contact has been illegal or has been subject to criticism from the local government.

Political Objectives

The Soviets' long-range political objectives in Latin America, as cited by Soviet leaders, were to be attained by continued utilization of the local communist parties, state-to-state relations, and proselytballon omong university students, labor unions, and cultural organizations.eriod inoscow also viewed the rural peasantryevolutionary social force. The Soviets pointed to Cuba as an example of how the destruction of agrarian capitalism by rural-based insurgents can lead to the rise of the peasantry. Moscow concluded that far-reaching and democratic agrarian reform in Latin America was an inseparable part of the antifeudal and anti-imperialist revolution.

Moscow's propaganda support for rural guerrillas, however, was not the same strategy as Castro's, which featured monetary assistance and active participation-actions that severely complicated relations between lite Latin American and Soviet governments. The Soviets, nonetheless, ccr'uinly would have been happyuban-supported guerrilla victory. But the crushing of insurgent activity in Boliviaoupled with failures in Venezuela. Colombia. Guatemala, and Peru, dampened the USSR's belief in the ruial strategy.

The propensity of the Cubans to support the most radical elements rather than the local communist parties, in fuel, ledontinuing dispute between the Soviets and the Cubans over what strategy should be utilized in Latin America to bring aboutctive support for revolutionary movements or the USSR's utilization of the local communist purly as well as stule-lo-slatc relations. Only in recent years has this argument been resolved in favor of Ihe Soviets. Moscow is still hopeful that some "progressive" 'eadcr will emerge from the governingililary officcr-who will he able lo rally both the urban proletariat and the rural peasantry.

This hope notwithstanding, Soviet policy has been pragmatic enough to cover all possibilities. Essentially, the Soviets will give at least moral support to any group or class, acceptable to Moscow, demanding liberation or at least improved living conditions, and will espouse the cause of any nation claiming toictim of imperialism. The current situation In Latin America, characterized by underdeveloped, stagnating agrarian, or semi-industrialized economics, presents an opportunity for possible Soviet exploitation. Many Latin American countries-especially in the Caribbean-so badly need economic assistance that they arc beginning to look for help anywhere and everywhere.

The situation In Chile under Allcndcoviet dream come true. In Moscow's view, however, the Chilean regime never was well enough entrenched to prevent the moderates and the right wing from returning to power. When the coup finally occurred, the Soviets were unwilling and unable to intervene to protect their friends. While many Latin American communists undoubtedly were disheartened by Moscow's failure to act decisively, noncommuntst leaders apparently were gratified by the Soviets* restraint. One outcome of the Chilean affair has been that many Latins arc more willing than before to accept the Sovietsesponsible source of support against US economic or political sanctions. Moreover, since Allendc's overthrow. Moscow has identified Peruubstitute "progressive" nation and nas been lavishing attention on the military leadership there.

There is, ofoincidence between the Latin American desire to reduce their dependence on the US and the Soviet desire to reduce the US presence and influence in the hemisphere. Moscow has been heartened in this regard by the lifting of OAS sanctions againstts own increasing diplomatic relations with Latinnd Latin support for some of the Soviet line at international forums.

The Soviet* now turn relertoni withtut American countries: Aipentina. Botrvii, Briifl. Colorah Costa Rica. Cuba. Ecuador. Guyana. Jamaica. Meako. Tcru. Surinam. Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay.Venenata

The successful transformation of Cubaoviet client has alsoain for Moscow. It demonstrated that the Monroe Doctrine-prevent ing extrahemispheric interference in Latinead issue. In the Cuba-USSR relationship, although Havana is noturrogate for Soviet policies in the hemisphere or the rest of the world, there arc obviously times when there arc coincidences in ambitions and policies. From the viewpoint of the political support the Cubans can provide the. Soviets in Third World-especlally Latin American-forums, Moscow's investment in Havana has been paying off.

Economic Objectives

Soviet economic relotlon* with Latin America have expanded markedly in recent years. Mutual commercial exchanges still areignificant portion of the overall trade of the USSR or of Latin America's global trade. Thearket, however, has become important for some major countries-the USSR, for example, was Argentina's largest importer5 and is currently Brazil's fifth-largest market.9oviet economic credits extended to the area, exclusive of Cube, rose0 million to0 million. This upsurgeoviet desire to expand exports in the face of burgeoning deficits within the area. Latin American drawings on these credits to the endowever, amounted to less thanillion because of the private sector's unwillingness to make purchases from the USSR. Although Soviet deficits have continued to grow-the deficit50 million-trade continues to dominate Soviet relations with Latin America.

The Soviets also haveumber of technical and scientific agreements with various Latin American counrries, Mexico has signed contracts with the Soviet-dominated Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CEMA) for cooperation in agriculture, industrial technology, and science, and Jamaica and Guyana arc seeking observer status in the organization. While Soviet economic trade .jid aid is minuscule in comparison with Moscow's total effort In lhc less developed countries, thereronounced tendency among the Latin American nations to diversify their trade and economicontinuation of this tendency, as well as the growing Latin receptivity to Sovieiill ultimately lead to increases in Soviet commercial activity in lhc area.

Military Objectives

Moscow has long called for the independence of the Latin American armed forces from US influence and armaments. The Soviets see the Pentagon's influence us all-pervasive in the various Lam. American military establishments. Moscow views the current squabble between the US und the Latin American military over the human rights issue and the renunciation by many of the Latin countries of US military assistance programs as an exploitable situation. The Soviet prrss in recent weeks, in fact, has played up the "worsening relationship" between the US and the Lutln militaries.

In the meantime, the Soviets have been offering themselves as an alternative weaponsew Latin American military delegations have traveled lo Moscow to inspect military equipment. Peru, however, has been the only Latin American country to buy Soviet hardware. Ils purchasesightcr-hombcrs.5 medium tanks, ond antiaircraft artillery us well asndurface-to-air missiles. Moscow also hasililary advisers in Peru assisting in training and maintenance of the Soviet equipment.

The USSR has recently offered to sell military equipment to Argentina, Brazil. Colombia, and Venezuels. Ecuador is also reportedly interested in purchasing Soviet interceptors, but military leaden in Quito are hopeful that the or another Soviet arms client In Latin America will forco Washington to come up with an arms deal. It Is likely that most or fie Litir nations will continue to look to France, West Germany, the United Kingdom, and Israel as the major weapons suppliers. Many Latin American countries may be enticed by Moscow's attractive arms offers, but few will probobly actually sign any military contracts.

From the Soviet viewpoint, the most important espect of their military equipment sales to Latin Amerlc-he incursion into the previously exclusive Western market. Soviet technicians and advisers may introduce some political leverage. In the case of Peru, however, their presence, so far his not led to substantial political gains. In fact, last year Lima became more moderate even as Soviei military assistance Increased.


Soviet cultural exchanges with Latin America are designed to win sympathy and friends and to prove, as Lenin once said, that "the Bolsheviks are not such terrible barbarians as they are supposed tohe Soviets have repeatedly claimed that US culture has been designed for thr privileged minority, whereas theirs is universal and popular. Student exchanges are one way to lessen Latin fear and distrust. The long-range effectiveness of the cultural exchange program cunnot be determined, but an Improving political, economic, and cultural atmosphere will certainly Increase Soviet acceptance In the area.

Organizational Presence in Latin America

The Soviet diplomatic presence in Latin America is organized along linesthat of the US. Each embassyolitical and economic section. Therepeople, trade and aid personnel, and consular officers. Of theSoviets residing in Latin America, excluding Cuba, the best estimateercent are intelligencethese

people handle the liaison activities with the local communist party.

Soviei Diplomatic Presence in Latin America

Argentina Bolivia




Costa Rica






Trinidad Uruguay Venezuela



plusechnical aid personnel)

plus aboutechnical aid personnel)





plus aboutechnical aid personnel)

8 (no official2 Tan representativesultural exchange people)

lusilitary advisers

I (lives In Caracas)





(known or (known or suspect) suspect)

The Latin View

Historically, the Soviet Unior. has been regardedind of pariah by most Latin Americans. The Luso-Hispanic world has little In common with Russia. Early Soviet attempts toumber of Latin governments reinforced this Image. Tho world situation has changed, however, and many governments that are interested In finding new sources of credits and technology, as well as new markets, have overcome their deep-rooted "fear and repugnance ofhe Argentines, for example, do not link the guerrillas operKingJn then country with tho pro-Soviet communists as they might have in the past. (Indeed, they are nothe military government says that it Is willing to have diplomatic relations and trade with everyone, regardless of political Ideology.

Unquestionably, detente has also added to Soviet respectability. The Latin American argument is that If the US can have cordial relations with Moscow, then surely they can follow suit. In addition, the miliiary and economic development of the Soviet Union is admired by many Latins and viewedotential counterweight to US influence.

One cannot underestimate the rolo of Cuba in this equation. Latin Amcricun nationalism, of course, wis present before Fidel Castro appeared on the scene. The Cuban leader did prove, however, that it was possible to thumb one's nose at Washington and still have an alternative source of economic and military assistance. This picture has appealed particularly to several other nations in the Caribbean. Conversely, the enormous cost of economic assistance to Cuba may have sobered Soviet pretensions to aid other Latin American countries trying to disassociate from the US. (The Soviets frequently cautioned Allcnde. in fact, against cutting himself off economically from theuba still remains, however,ymbol of Soviet support against "USs Latin American countries increase trade and diplomatic relations with Cuba, the standing of the Soviet Union in the area will inevitably be enhanced.

This does not mmn that economic and political relations betveen the USSR and Latin America have been completclv friendly and smooth. There Is continuing suspicion among the Latin American nations of Soviet Intentions. Most of the governmentsight wMch on Soviet diplomats, and any suggestion of interference in domestic matters is quickly rebuffed. In their commercial relations with Latin America, despite the prospect of lucrative terms, the Soviets have been hampered bylingering reputation for exporting overpriced and inferior goods.

The oven Sdlng factor in all aspects of Latin-Soviet relations has been the appeal of the USSR as en alternative economic partner and military supplier to the US. The Latins arc becoming more receptive to Soviet aid offers because of their balancc-of-paymcnts difficulties. The Soviets, In turn, havo encouraged sales by concentrating their efforts on areas of high priority such asencrgy-they have been promoting low-cost funding for hydroelectric projects In Argentina. Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Guyana.


In the political sphere, many Latins are probably appreciative of the Soviets* pro-Third World stance at international forums on many issues of theuth dialogue. Again, as in the economic and military cases, the USSR is being used by the Latins to balance off the US. The Latin reaction to the human rights issue is also important politically because many nations of the area-Cipccially those in the southern conc-alrcady felt neglected by Washington. This issue will increase thcir sense of isolation from and irritation with the US. The USSR could be the final beneficiary.

Soviet Prospects in Latin America

The Latin American world, with the major exception in Cuba, his not been very susceptible to Soviet overtures over the post SO years. The people hove been less receptive to propaganda than Soviet leaders expected, and the major social movements.of the area have been national talher than international. In the Soviet view, however, economic "contradictions" in the industrially developed nations inevitably lead to "contradictions" between them and the less developed1 states. Moscow, therefore, expects an ultimate intensification in the anti-imperialist national liberation struggle throughout the Third World, including Lltin America.

The Soviets appear to be undecided on how to go about exploiting theresented by this economic crisis. In the past, they have worked through the various local communist parties; (hey hove provided moral support to rural guerrillas; they have increased stitc-to-state relations; ind they are now tryingestablish military equipment liaisons with the various Latin American military cstobllshmcnts. Moscow's constant objective in all this is the erosion of US economic and political Influence.

Despite its occasional setbacks, Moscow seems to believe (hat Latin America's economic ond political nationalism-particul.irly its anti-US ospccts-wlll persist and deepen. The Soviets hope that as this occurs their own trade and diplomatic relations with Latin America will continue to prow and (hnt the USSR willignificant economic force in the area. This economic involvement will do away once anJ frr oil with the pariah image, which more than anything else has isolated the .Soviets front the hemisphere,


In tho final analysis, the key factor governlnn the extent of the Soviet-Latin American relationship is the US. The Soviet Union still cannot influence Latin American affairs as mud. as it can exploit economic and political conditions and US policies. So long as the US fails toonsistent and acceptable policy for the region, political opportunism and tactical ficxibilitv will work to Moscow's advantage and further erode US influence.

Original document.

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