9. Paper Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1

RP 77–10090

Soviet Interest in Latin AmericaKey Judgments

The Soviet Union has long been interested in increasing its influence in Latin America, but has had difficulty in formulating a successful policy for the area. Early attempts by Moscow to use the local communist parties to gain a foothold failed, in part, because the Soviets did [Page 43] not understand the Latin American milieu and had little expertise in Latin American affairs. Until the early 1960s they seemed to assume that because of the basic instability of the area, “socialist” revolution was inevitable once a local communist party was activated. The basic flaw was their belief that Latin America was, and is, overwhelmingly dominated by conservative forces that have been unsympathetic to Moscow. Moreover, the area did not fit the Soviet mold of revolution in less developed nations. The countries have been independent for a long time; they are culturally and politically developed; they have a rather extensive educated elite, and for the most part, they are not attracted to foreign political ideologies and have regarded the Soviet Union as a political and ideological pariah.

In recent years, however, the Soviets have 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 state-to-state relations. Soviet prospects are still limited, however, by Moscow’s own economic problems and its inability in most cases to provide the Latins with any civilian technology they do not already have. Soviet successes have been partly the result of growing expertise in Latin American affairs and a relative decline of US influence in the area. Other factors have been the latent anti-US nationalism present in Latin America, the Soviet Union’s emergence as a global power with observable economic, military, and political clout, and the survival of Castro’s Cuba with Soviet assistance.

There now seems little doubt that the Soviet presence in Latin America will increase in the future, especially as East-West tensions relax. The Soviets are now beginning to view the area not as a region 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 the US for political, economic, and military assistance and should now seek alternative friends, suppliers, and markets is made to order for Soviet exploitation.

The current economic recession in the West, the increasing effort by many Latin nations to use their raw materials as an economic lever against the US, and the current 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 [Page 44] own relationship with the Latins, Moscow will be able to make inroads on the still-preponderant US influence in the area.

[Omitted here is the body of the paper.]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Office of Support Services (DI), Job 78T02549A, Box 3, Folder 31, RP 77–10090: Soviet Interest in Latin America. Secret; [handling restriction not declassified]