The Cold War Period lasted from 1945 to 1991 but, anachronistically, it continues in U.S. policy towards Cuba.
In the immediate post WWII era, U.S. concern with communism replaced U.S. concern with fascism. The Soviet Union was perceived as an inherently expansionist power bent on world conquest. The U.S. sought to create an inter-American system that it would dominate in the form of an anti-communist alliance to sanitaize the western hemisphere against communism. Communism replaces monarchy as the alien ideology in the Monroe Doctrine (an infinitely elastic doctrine interpreted broadly by the US to serve its purposes).
In Latin America in the post-War period, Latins took the United States at its word that the war had been fought for freedom. There was a growing trend towards democracy characterized by the growth of reformist parties and governments, labor unions, and other forms of social movements. These were interpreted as threats to the United States. they could threaten U.S. economic interests by undermining the established elites that protected U.S. interests (U.S. economic and political clients). These movements could be exploited by communists. Latin Americans were often perceived as people who could not be relied upon to practice democracy. Nationalist regimes could be susceptible to anti-U. S. propaganda from the Soviet Union. These assumptions led to several policy actions by the United States.
1. The U.S. redefined the Monroe Doctrine to outlaw communism
in the western hemisphere as an alien ideology;
2. The U.S. sought to strengthen groups favorable to the United States even if they were not committed to democracy;
3. While emphasizing the need for "collective action" against "communism," the U.S. reserved the right to intervene alone ("unilaterally") in cases where the U.S. thought there was communist "subversion."
In April of 1948, the Act of Bogota commits the signatory countries to a Charter for the Organization of American States (based on article 51 of the UN charter the provides for regional organizations for the maintenance of peace and security). A resolution was passed that shows the intent of the U.S. to make the OAS an anti-communist alliance. It declared "communism" by its anti-democratic nature and interventionist tendency, the political activity of international communism or any other totalitarian doctrine is incompatible with the concept of American freedom ." The resolution calls for "collective measures" to be taken to prevent agents of international communism from "distorting" the true will of the Latin American peoples.
That Latin Americans were as concerned about US intervention is revealed in the fact that they insisted on inserting articles XV, XVI, and XVII into the O.A.S. Charter that limit the right of any country to interfere either directly or indirectly in the internal affairs of a member state. This was directed against U.S. intervention.
Latin America priorities were not based on fighting communism. Latins were more concerned with issues of economic development in light of the decline of demand for their products in the post-war era. In fact, communist parties in Latin America were small. The largest party was that of Chile and it was outlawed after the 1946 elections. In many other countries, communist parties were outlawed. Communists were driven under ground, imprisoned, or exiled. The communist threat was miniscule. The real threat was hunger, destitution, abusive social systems, racism, exploitation, lack of land for peasants. For an excellent book that exposes the lack of a communist threat in the post World War II era and the limited role of the soviets in Latin America see Cole Blasier, The Giant's Rival: The U.S.S.R. in Latin America (1986, Pittsburgh University Press). Blasier worked for the State Dept. lived in Moscow for 10 years, and has extensive knowledge of Latin America.
Despite the realities (or maybe because of the realities), the U.S. intervened in the internal affairs of these countries of Latin America to limit the influence of leftist and communist parties (they are not one and the same). The U.S. succeeded in driving these parties underground by having them declared illegal. Labor attaches worked to prevent parties of the left from influencing or controlling the labor movements that were developing in Latin America. The U.S. labor movement , the AFL-CIO received funds from the State Department and established the American Institute for Free Labor Development. The purpose of this last organization was to develop American styled trade unions that would limited their demands to wages and working conditions and pose no greater demands that could change a highly unjust and inequitable status quo. To win legitimacy in U.S. domestic politics, the American labor movement assisted the U.S. government and its agenda in Latin America. Military attaches and advisors also helped train officers and police in the arts of political suppression. Thus the goals of the U.S. meshed with those of the established elites in Latin America who also opposed all movements that threatened to produce fundamental changes in those societies.
In 1947, the U.S. Congress passed the National Security Act. This act created the National Security Council, the Central Intelligence Agency all aimed at anti-communist containment. Our activities helped create a rash of military governments in Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia. The anti communist obsession was such that in 1954, the Hoover Commission issues the Hoover Commission Report that asserts that practices contrary to our traditions and our values (e.g., overthrow, assassination, support for unsavory groups, secrecy of actions kept from the American people) would be necessary to fight communism. It was this climate that led to U.S. involvement of the democratically-elected government of Guatemala, our support for the Batista dictatorship (once he returned to Cuba and cancelled the 1952 elections), and support for other "friends" in Latin America who were not democratic (e.g., Somoza in Nicaragua). Our credo became "anyone but a communist."
In 1954, we conspired with a man named Castillo Armas to overthrow the democratically-elected government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala. Arbenz was a former military officer who, once elected president, continued the reform policies of his predecessor. he passed the first minimum wage law in the history of that country (26 cents per day). He also attempted to distribute lands owned and not cultivated by the United Fruit Company, a U.S.-owned company that was the largest landowner in the country. The UFCO disagreed with the government regarding how much compensation should be given for the lands. But the U.S. ambassador to the country (Richard Patterson) believed that Arbenz was either a communist or "soft on communism." After the overthrow of Arbenz, which the U.S. engineered (see David Wise, The Invisible Government), Castillo Armas returned UFCO lands back to the company, outlawed the communists, imposed a harsh military dictatorship, and set off an era of repression that has still to end in Guatemala. More than 200,000 persons have been killed in Guatemala from 1954 to the present by anti-communist regimes. The derailing of democracy, in which the U.S. actively participated and for which President Clinton apologized in 1999, produced guerrilla armies and civil war which took thousands of lives. It was not until 1996 that a peace accord was signed by the government and the remaining guerrilla group the URG or the Union Revolucionaria Guatemalteca.
The Caracas Declaration was issued in March pf 1954 at the behest of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. It declared Marxism to be an alien ideology and, with Guatemala in mind, restated that the states of the hemisphere would act in concert to protect the hemisphere from any effort to establish a communist government in the hemisphere. Pressured with the threat denial of U.S. aid should they fail to support the declaration, the members of the the Organization of American States also reiterated their opposition to intervention in their internal affairs (a thinly-veiled reference to the United States' intentions).
The rise of opposition to U.S. policies and the end of military regimes in a number of countries characterized the late 1950's. The military governments of Rojas Pinilla in Colombia, Perez Jimenez in Venezuela, and Manuel Odria in Peru signaled a growing opposition to U.S.-supported anti-communist dictatorships. In 1958, Nixon's tour to Latin America was met with great hostility and with riots. The next dictatorship to fall was that of Fulgencio Batista in Cuba in January of 1959. This brought Fidel Castro to power and was the most significant event in the Cold War era for Latin America.
Impact of Guatemala on the new Cuban leaders was clear. Ernesto "Che" Guevara was in Guatemala at the time of the U.S.-sponsored overthrow of its democratically-elected government. Now, he was in the leadership ranks of the new revolutionary government of Cuba. That leadership, based in part on Guatemala but also on previous Cuban history (e.g., how U.S. aided and supported Batista to overthrow the revolutionary government there in 1933, the Platt Amendment, previous U.S. interventions in Cuba), concluded that the U.S. would attempt to overthrow a nationalist and Left-leaning government such as theirs.
By the spring of 1959, after meeting with Fidel Castro, Vice President Nixon had recommended to President Eisenhower, that we train exiled Cubans to overthrow the Cuban government. Nixon felt that the U.S. could repeat Guatemala's "success " once again. The program of the new revolution troubled Nixon. Land reform, nationalization of American held properties, the execution of over 400 of Batista's top henchmen, the growing marginalization of the moderate middle class element that supported the revolution--all of these caused concern. Later, a modest sugar trade agreement with Russia led to the termination of the sugar quota with the U.S. (which was the life line of Cuba's sugar dependent economy).
The 1960 election influenced events because Cuba and "softness" on communism became an issue. John Kennedy sounded even more anti-communist than did Nixon. Upon his election, Kennedy inherited the plan to attack Cuba with exiles. In April of 1961, the exiles landed at the Bay of Pigs coming, of all places, Guatemala. The Cuban government had been waiting for the invasion and captured most of the invading force (later traded for 50 million in food and medicines). Castro decided that the U.S. was bent on destroying the revolution. He took the fateful step of declaring himself a socialist. He sought to protect the revolution by building a close relationship with the U.S.S.R. This included his request that the soviets place missiles in Cuba as a trip-wire against U.S. invasion. This led to the October 1962 missile crisis.
The U.S. desisted from invading Cuba outright because estimates were that would cause 25,000 casualties. Kennedy decided to use a naval quarantine of Cuba and to intercept soviet vessels carrying the missiles to Cuba. As the world waited with baited-breadth and as many thought that a nuclear war was in the making, the soviets and the U.S. ended the confrontation with the soviets agreeing to take back the missiles and not to place them in Cuba in return for a promise by the United States that the U.S. would not invade Cuba and in return for the removal of missiles that the U.S. had in Turkey (that were already obsolete). From then forward, the United States sought to isolate Cuba diplomatically (e.g., expulsion from the Organization of American States) and to cripple Cuba through an economic embargo that is still in place. There were efforts to assassinate Fidel Castro using the U.S. mafia. For the region, a country's stance toward Cuba became a benchmark for its relations with the U.S. and the U.S. pressured Latin American countries (using economic levers) to break economic and trade relations with Cuba.
Kennedy initiated the Alliance for Progress program with Cuba in mind. The Alliance was to provide 20 billion dollars over the decade of the sixties for reform in Latin America (land reform, education, health, literacy, etc.). But the Alliance contained counterinsurgency measures as well. The Jungle Warfare School was established in the Panama Canal Zone and aid was provided to Latin American militaries to improve their counterinsurgency capacities. Police forces were trained (including interrogation via torture as the U.S. Senate revealed when it eliminated aid to police in Argentina in 1975). The reforms failed because the elites in Latin America resisted changes that would erode their economic and political power. With the assassination of Kennedy in 1963, the new President, Lyndon Baines Johnson, placed less emphasis on social reform and more on counterinsurgency.
The new president subscribed to the ideas of his new advisor on Latin American Affairs , Thomas Mann. Mann enunciated what was later called the Mann Doctrine. This doctrine rejected the idea of giving a cold shoulder to military or non-democratic regimes. Mann believed the U.S. should have correct relations with the governments of Latin America as long as they allowed U.S. to invest on a non-discriminatory basis and as long as they opposed the Soviet Union. The operative word was "No More Cubas."
In 1965, the Mann Doctrine was used to prevent the bringing back to power of the democratically-elected government of Juan Bosch in the Dominican Republic. With the justification that there were 57 communists involved in the effort to bring Bosch back to power, the U.S. sent over 20,000 troops to the Dominican Republic in the spring of 1965. Subsequently, that country was ruled by an elected but strong-armed government headed by former henchman to long-term dictator Rafael Trujillo (Joaquin Balaguer). The year prior to this, the U.S. approved and supported the Brazilian military's overthrow of the democratically-elected government of Joao Goulart (a nationalist reformer who favored good relations with Castro and wanted to limit U.S. corporate remittances). The result was that Brazil was governed by the military until 1985 (21 years). In short, the Mann Doctrine meant we would wink at military regimes and that all was acceptable in the name of anti-communism.
With the election of Nixon in 1968, the ideas initiated by Mann were carried further when Nelson Rockefeller recommended that the U.S. develop close ties with Latin American militaries. From 1964 until 1990, all countries in Latin America experienced military rule except four (Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, and Costa Rica). In short, the failure of reform as envisioned in the Alliance for Progress was met with support for military governments as part of U.S. policy. Nixon carried out an active program of destabilization in Chile where, in 1970, the socialist government of Salvador Allende was ELECTED into office. U.S. efforts to destabilize the Chilean economy, its support of the trucker's strike, its paying of reporters to plant anti-Allende stories in El Mercurio--all of these contributed to the overthrow of Allende and his assassination. (See Seymour Hirsh's biography of Henry Kissinger.)
The election of Ronald Reagan signaled an even more active commitment to the same strategy. During the election campaign, Reagan strategists issued the Santa Fe Document which called not for a containment of communism, but rather for a roll back of communism. The 1982 invasion of a tiny island known for tourism and nutmeg production, Grenada, under the pretense that the Cubans were building an airport there so they could gain a foothold on Grenada illustrates the roll back stance. The invasion of Grenada took off the headlines the failure of the U.S. to prevent the bombing of marine installations in Lebanon that had led to the death of 241 marines.
In Nicaragua, Reagan brought together and financed the Contras (counterrevolutionaries) against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. After 100,000 Nicaraguan lives were lost in the decade of the 80's, the Sandinistas held elections in which the U.S. organized an opposition party (never mind the O.A.S. Charter chapters 15 through 18) called UNO. Through a State Department entity known as the National Endowment for Democracy, more than twenty million dollars were funneled to UNO leading to the defeat of the Sandinistas (although they remained the single largest party with 40% support).
In El Salvador, the civil war that raged there was defined by Reagan as a war financed by Nicaragua acting as a surrogate for Cuba. This ignored the internal factors that led to that horrible conflict. More than 100,000 Salvadorans died in the decade of the 80's. When the U.S. Congress objected to funding the wars in Central America, a boiler room operation was put in motion led by Lt. Colonel Oliver North. Private arms merchants sold weapons to Iran (a government we labeled as a terrorist government and with which all U.S. arms sales were illegal) with the help of North and other members of the Reagan National Security team. The profits from these sales were then used to finance the contras and other pro U.S. groups in Central America in violation of a direct vote of the U.S. Congress to terminate funding for those activities. The President claimed he had no knowledge of these activities.
By the mid-1980's, after decades of militarism, torture, exile, and hundreds of thousands of deaths, the cold war was winding down in Latin America. The military had sanitized Latin American countries by destroying any significant forces of the Left (not just the small communist parties). Militarism had made Latin America safe once again for foreign investment and for the neoliberal policies of the post-Cold War era that stressed reductions in social services, austerity, privatization, foreign investment, etc. But the underlying conditions that gave rise to popular movements and to movements of the Left still remain. The question is how the U.S. will react to the "fire next time." There is no communist boogey man to use as a scapegoat any longer. The populist government of Hugo Chavez Frias in Venezuela, the guerrillas in Colombia that control 40% of that country, the coup d' etat in Ecuador in January 2000, the elections of Luis Inacio da Silva (Lula) in Brazil, the election of the leader of the Ecuadorian coup in 2000 (Lucio Gutierrez), alongside the massive debt in Mexico and Brazil with growing popular mobilizations in those countries--how will we react to the "fire next time?"