289. Interagency Memorandum1

The Status of Cuban Subversion in Latin America2


Cuban efforts to overthrow Latin American governments are at a low ebb. Tangible support of armed revolutionaries is negligible, training in clandestine and guerrilla methods has been sharply reduced, and exhortative propaganda has been virtually eliminated. The relatively large number of Cuban intelligence officers in the region are focused primarily on espionage and on promoting Cuban interests overtly and clandestinely. Castro’s shift from violent to more conventional methods in recent years reflects a fundamental shift in his view of Cuba’s role in the hemisphere. He now collaborates with governments and groups that conform to his loose definition of “patriotic and independent,” having withdrawn from his previously intimate relationships with the revolutionary factions of the 1960s. Castro is not likely to endanger the gains he has made in the region for the sake of any marginal revolutionary group. He could decide in the future, howSever, to support armed revolutionary groups in a few countries if the groups became well organized and seemed to pose a significant threat to the governments. Since this is unlikely, the outlook for the next few years is for a continuation of present trends.


1. After sponsoring revolutionary groups in Latin America for nine years, Castro began to reappraise his methods and objectives in 1968. Successive and costly failures by revolutionary groups and their poor [Page 777] prospects for the future, increasing Soviet pressure, rapidly changing conditions in the hemisphere, and domestic problems gradually persuaded him to eschew violent methods. Subsequent efforts to extend Cuban influence through more conventional means succeeded dramatically, and a significant change in Castro’s view of his role in the region became apparent. For a time he continued to assert that he would establish formal ties only with “revolutionary” governments, but by the early 1970s he had broadened his definition of the term to include “patriotic” regimes “independent of the U.S.”

2. Castro is now willing to include a majority of Latin American and Caribbean governments in this category; eight of them maintain diplomatic ties with Cuba. Because he believes that there is more to gain by developing relations with Latin American governments than by supporting the armed revolutionary groups that oppose them, Castro has loosened his ties with the latter. Partly because of Cuban urging and partly because of their own desire to function independently, existing revolutionary groups have become largely self-sustaining through such means as robbery and kidnaping, and they no longer receive Cuban support.

3. Other indications also support the view that Cuban efforts to overthrow governments in the region are at a low level. Intelligence reports received from several sources in Latin America this year confirm the shift of Cuban policy, and indicate that Havana is making it clear to revolutionaries that they can no longer expect Cuban support. [4½ lines not declassified] Three international front organizations created by Havana in the 1960s to support and coordinate subversive activities have been dismantled or allowed to atrophy. The content of Cuban propaganda meanwhile, has shifted from the clarion calls to revolution common in the 1960s to more moderate if slanted and self-serving discussions of international issues.

4. At the same time, Havana’s diplomatic activity has provided greater opportunities for some types of intelligence and political activity. [4 lines not declassified] In contrast to earlier years, however, when the emphasis was on supporting armed subversion, the activities of the Cuban intelligence service now appear to be largely confined to espionage and to promoting Cuban interests both overtly and clandestinely among legally constituted groups, such as student and labor organizations. Currently, the main thrust of Cuban policy is to undermine U.S. influence in Latin America and in regional organizations.

5. In Argentina and Mexico, the only two Latin American countries where significant guerrilla or terrorist groups have been active this year, Cuba maintains good relations with the governments and is not known to support opposition groups. Havana supports Mrs. Peron’s government and, although concerned about its rightward drift, is more [Page 778] anxious to take advantage of large Argentine credits and expanding bilateral trade than to support revolutionaries. The People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP) is in contact with the Castro regime and may have acquired forged documents and other technical support from Cuban intelligence experts. The other principal Argentine subversive group, the Montoneros, is not known to receive Cuban support.

6. Of the remaining countries with which Cuba has relations, Havana considers the Peruvian military regime its closest ally in Latin America. There is no evidence of Cuban support for anti-Velasco elements, and Havana favors the government-sponsored labor movement instead of the Communist union. Similarly, as bilateral ties with the Burnham government in Guyana have expanded, Castro’s previously close ties with Cheddi Jagan’s Marxist Opposition Party have suffered; and when Cuba and Panama renewed relations in August, Havana did not even notify the local Communist Party. There is no evidence of Cuban meddling in the internal affairs of Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad-Tobago, the remaining countries in the region that have official ties with Havana.

7. Several other countries now considering the establishment of formal ties with Havana—Venezuela, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Ecuador—are also acceptable to Castro. Cuba apparently no longer supports local revolutionaries in any of them. On July 26, Castro responded favorably to remarks by Venezuelan Government spokesmen advocating the normalization of relations with Cuba. He indicated that he expects other governments in the region to re-establish ties with Havana in coming months, and pledged that this would be done “on the basis of absolute reciprocal respect and fraternal cooperation.” Although not an explicit renunciation of armed subversion, this was Castro’s most unequivocal effort to date to reassure “patriotic” Latin American leaders that he will not interfere in the internal affairs of their countries.

8. Flexibility and pragmatic calculation have also characterized Havana’s policies toward some other Latin American governments. Castro has promoted cultural, sports, and educational exchanges, and exploits opportunities to make a show of Cuban good will. In the aftermaths of the Nicaraguan earthquake in 1972 and the recent hurricane in Honduras, for instance, he donated large amounts of aid and sent medical teams. Castro also seeks to enter into profitable commercial deals without regard to ideology. He recently dispatched a trade delegation to Honduras in an effort to expand the commercial ties established last year when the Lopez government bought Cuban sugar. He is even willing to discuss economic issues with Cuba’s philosophical opposites in the hemisphere—including the Brazilian Government.

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9. There are, nevertheless, a few governments that Castro is reluctant or unwilling to deal with. He is contemptuous of the military-dominated regimes in Uruguay, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Guatemala and could decide in the future to support opposition revolutionary groups if they became well organized and seemed to pose a significant threat. The Uruguayan Tupamaros reportedly received Cuban support last year. They undoubtedly remain in touch with Havana and may still be receiving training in Cuba, but there is no recent evidence of other Cuban support to that shattered group. Even Guatemala reportedly is not now the target of Cuban subversion as it was for a number of years, partly because of the disarray of the extreme Left. [4 lines not declassified]

10. Castro’s strongest enmity is reserved for the Chilean military government. Prior to the Chilean coup, Castro took advantage of favorable conditions under the Allende government to support extremists from other Latin American countries resident in Chile, many of whom were working against the governments of their respective countries. In September 1973 after the demise of the Allende government, Castro promised anti-junta Chileans “all the aid in Cuba’s power to provide.” As the prospects of the Chilean left have declined since then, however, Havana apparently has become resigned to the realities of a situation it has little ability to influence. [3½ lines not declassified] In the unlikely event that revolutionary Chileans were able to piece together a viable opposition force, he would probably try to provide them with significant support.

11. Castro’s willingness to adopt new methods for the new times in Latin America is the result of his reappraisal of international conditions, Soviet pressures, and personal and domestic considerations. At 48, Fidel is no longer the romantic revolutionary that he was during his early years in power. Instead, he has increasingly demonstrated a desire to find compromise solutions for Cuba’s problems. Today he manages limited national resources more frugally and, preoccupied with domestic development priorities and the institutionalization of the revolution, he appears to have little interest in quixotic policies or personalities at home or abroad.

12. The outlook for the next few years is for a continuation of present trends. It is unlikely that for the sake of any marginal subversive group, Castro will compromise the formal ties he has worked so persistently to acquire in Latin America. He will be increasingly mindful of Cuba’s improving image throughout the region and anxious to capitalize on it. Even when his intrinsic revolutionary sensitivities are strained by governments he is contemptuous of, he will remember the deleterious effects that proof of Cuban subversion would have on his entire foreign policy. He could decide in the future, how[Page 780]ever, to support armed revolutionary groups if they became well organized and seemed to pose a significant threat in a few countries. This would be particularly true in Chile, where the Cubans would probably see support of a viable revolutionary group as doing only limited damage to their total foreign policy while actually garnering support from many quarters.

  1. Summary: This memorandum analyzed the status of Cuban subversion in Latin America, concluding that Cuba had significantly scaled back its support for revolutionary movements in the region.

    Source: Central Intelligence Agency, National Intelligence Council Files, Job 79R01099A, Box 19, Folder 2. Secret; [handling restriction not declassified]; Background Use Only; Controlled Dissem. All brackets are in the original except those indicating text that remains classified. A May 2, 1975, paper updated this study, noting that Cuba had further “broadened the range of governments with which it is willing to conduct relations through accepted and orthodox means” since the November 1974 Quito meeting of OAS Foreign Ministers, at which a majority of representatives supported a resolution that would have discontinued diplomatic sanctions on Cuba. (Ibid., Office of Current Intelligence Files, Job 85T00353R, Box 1, Folder 17) See Documents 24, 25, and 26 on the Quito meeting.

  2. This memorandum was prepared under the auspices of the National Intelligence Officer for Latin America. It was drafted in CIA and has been reviewed with representatives of CIA, DIA and INR and endorsed by them. [Footnote in the original.]