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Revolutionary Adventurism

The principal area of Soviet-Cuban conflict in the early 1960s was Fidel Castro's revolutionary ventures in Latin America, beginning with his attempt in 1963 to subvert and overthrow the Venezuelan government and his guerrilla operations in Guatemala and Bolivia. Castro's attempts at revolution all ended in disaster, however. His failures weakened his leverage with the Soviets, increased Soviet influence with Cuba, and forced him to look inward to improve his faltering economy. In the early 1970s, Castro's speeches played down the notion of Latin American revolution; Castro had come to recognize that there were "different roads to power." Although not completely renouncing his original goal of exporting his own brand of communism, he became more selective in furnishing Cuban support.

The overthrow of the Salvador Allende Gossens regime in Chile in September 1973, however, marked a turning point for the Cuban-inspired revolutionary struggle in Latin America. The Cuban leadership examined its strategy and tactics in the area and concluded that the way to power in Latin America was not through ballots but through bullets. Beginning in the mid1970s, Castro increased his support to select groups, particularly in Central America, providing them with propaganda material, training, advisers, financial help, and ultimately weapons. An acceleration of the revolutionary armed struggle in the area followed.

The acceleration coincided with the United States debacle in Vietnam and the Watergate scandal. The inability of United States administrations to respond swiftly and decisively to conditions in Central America, as well as in other parts of the world, and to the Soviet-Cuban challenge in Africa, emboldened the Cuban leader. More than 40,000 Cuban troops, supported by Soviet equipment, were transferred to Africa in order to bring to power communist regimes in Angola and Ethiopia.

Encouraged by Cuban-Soviet victories in Angola and Ethiopia, the Castro regime focused its attention on the rapidly deteriorating conditions in Nicaragua. Cuba, together with Panama and Venezuela, increased support to the Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberacion National - FSLN), the principal guerrilla group opposing the Anastasio Somoza regime. In July 1979, Somoza fled and the FSLN rode victorious into Managua.

The Sandinista victory in Nicaragua stands as an imposing monument to Cuban strategy and ambitions in the hemisphere. The overthrow of Somoza gave the Castro line its most important boost in two decades. It vindicated, although belatedly, Castro's ideological insistence on violence and guerrilla warfare as the correct strategy to attain power in Latin America. Castro's long-held belief that the political, social, and economic conditions that had produced the Revolution in Cuba existed or could be created in other parts of Latin America, and that revolution would occur throughout the continent, seemed at last justified.

From that time on, the tempo of Cuban-supported violence accelerated in Central America. Aided by an extensive network of intelligence, military forces, and sophisticated propaganda machinery, the Cuban government increased its support to various groups in the area. In cooperation with Sandinista leaders, Cuba aided insurgent groups in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Colombia. Castro's commitment to revolutionary violence had been reinforced once again, showing convincingly that the Cuban leadership was willing to seize opportunities and take risks to expand its influence and power.

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Page last modified: 02-04-2013 16:20:54 ZULU