Soviet Union Table of Contents
Latin America, like sub-Saharan Africa, had been a relatively low priority in Soviet foreign policy, although in absolute terms interactions between the Soviet Union and Latin America had increased tremendously since the early 1960s. Until the Khrushchev period, Latin America was generally regarded as in the United States sphere of influence. The Soviet Union had little interest in importing Latin American raw materials or commodities, and most Latin American governments, traditionally anticommunist, had long resisted the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.
A transformation of the Soviet attitude toward Latin America began in 1959 when Fidel Castro overthrew Cuba's long-time dictator, Fulgencio Batista. Castro gradually turned the island into a communist state and developed such close ties with the Soviet Union that Cuba was, by 1961, considered by the Soviet Union as its first "fraternal party state" in the Western Hemisphere.
Castro initially advocated armed revolutionary struggle in Latin America. However, after armed struggle failed to topple the government of Venezuela in 1965, the Soviet leadership stressed the "peaceful road to socialism." This path involved cooperation between communist and leftist movements in working for peaceful change and electoral victories. The "peaceful road" apparently bore fruit in 1970 with the election of Salvador Allende Gossens, the candidate of the leftist Popular Unity coalition, as president of Chile. Despite Allende's advocacy of close ties with the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union was slow in providing economic assistance essential to the survival of the regime, and in the midst of economic collapse Allende died in a bloody coup in 1973. His ouster resulted in a partial renewal of Soviet support for Castro's position that armed force is necessary for the transition to communism. Brezhnev himself conceded at the 1976 Twenty-Fifth Party Congress that a "revolution must know how to defend itself." The Soviet Union funneled weaponry and economic assistance through Cuba to various insurgent groups and leftist governments in Latin America. The Soviet Union used Cuba as a conduit for military, economic, and technical assistance to Grenada from 1979 to 1983. The United States government claimed that guerrillas operating in El Salvador received extensive assistance from Nicaragua, Cuba, Vietnam, and Libya and that Nicaragua and Cuba funneled Soviet and East European matériel to the Salvadoran guerrillas.
Direct Soviet activities in South America have mostly involved diplomacy, trade, culture, and propaganda activities. Peru was the only South American state to purchase sizable quantities of military weaponry from the Soviet Union, and for many years about 125 Soviet military advisers were stationed there. Peru's military relationship with the Soviet Union began in 1968, when General Juan Velasco Alvarado seized power. In February 1969, Peru established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, and one month after Allende's ouster in Chile in September 1973, the first Soviet weapons arrived in Peru. Major transfers occurred after 1976, when Peru received fighter-bombers, helicopters, jet fighters, surfaceto -air missiles, and other relatively sophisticated weaponry. The Soviet Union had also been one of Peru's major trade partners, with some Peruvian exports being used to pay off Peruvian debt to the Soviet Union. Argentina in the 1980s was the Soviet Union's second largest trading partner among the noncommunist developing countries (India was the largest). In turn, the Soviet Union was a major importer of Argentine grain, meat, and wool.
Some Western analysts have posited a differentiated Soviet policy toward Latin America, which stresses military and subversive activities in Central America and diplomatic and economic (stateto -state) relations in South American. The range of instruments of influence used in Central America and South America, while varying in their mix over time, nevertheless indicated that all instruments, including support for subversive groups and arms shipments to amenable governments, had been used in Central America and South America in response to available opportunities, indicating shifting emphases but a basically undifferentiated policy toward Latin America. The main policy goal in Soviet relations with Latin America was to decrease United States influence in the region by encouraging the countries of the region either to develop close ties to the Soviet Union or to adopt a nonaligned, "anti-imperialist" foreign policy. The Soviet Union was cautious in pursuing this goal, seeking to maintain a low public profile in its relations, and was hesitant to devote major economic or military resources to countries in the region, with the exception of Cuba. As part of the reorientation of Soviet Third World policy toward better relations with Western-oriented Third World states, Gorbachev emphasized the establishment of better trade and political relations with several Latin American states. Evidence of this new emphasis was Gorbachev's visit to Cuba in April 1989 and Foreign Minister Shevardnadze's visits to Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay in 1986-87. While in Cuba, Gorbachev and Castro signed a friendship and cooperation treaty, indicating continued Soviet support to Cuba.
Data as of May 1989
Soviet Union Table of Contents