Cold War Influence in Latin America

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Cold War Influence in Latin America
The United States and the Soviet Union competed against each other during the Cold War in the second half of the 20th Century like a chess game, with the world as their chessboard and countries as pawns in their game. For the Russians, a critical part of the chessboard was Cuba and Latin America. The Russians believed that if they could align themselves with countries in the western hemisphere, America’s “backyard”, it would help the Soviet Union counter the strong political influence and military presence America had in Europe, which made the Russians feel threatened. The Soviet Union tried to align itself politically, militarily, and economically with as many Latin American countries as it could. In response, the U.S. attempted to block Russia’s efforts. America supported Latin American governments which were anti-communist, and pressured communist governments and even toppling several communist or social leaders. The meddling by Soviet Russia and the U.S. in these counties caused social, political and economic damage to the affected Latin American countries such as Cuba, Guatemala and Chile, which lasted for decades.

A source that describes U.S. policies in Guatemala during the early part of the Cold War is a secret (now declassified) CIA Study written in 1995 by Gerald K. Hines, a CIA history staff analyst. The Study is entitled “CIA and Guatemala Assassination Proposals 1952-154.” Hines’ Study is based upon secret internal CIA records from the 1950’s. Although the Study does not appear to be addressed to or directed at any particular person or group, it seems its purpose was to inform CIA agency officials in the 1990’s about the level of CIA involvement in attempted assassinations of pro-communist Guatemalan political leaders in the early part of the Cold War. In the Study, Haines explains that the U.S. became concerned that Guatemala was becoming a communist country after Jocobo Arbenz became President of Guatemala in 1951 (Haines). Arbenz believed in redistributing back to the people of Guatemala agricultural land that was owned by American and international corporations. The U.S. felt that under Arbenz’s rule, Guatemala was becoming a “client” state of the Soviet Union (Haines). The Study describes how U.S. agencies such as the CIA developed plans to assassinate Arbenz, but did not follow through. According to Haines’ research, “discussions of assassination reached a high level within the [CIA]” (Haines). The CIA did help Guatemalans in a successful plot to overthrow Arbenz in 1954. With Arbenz overthrown, the U.S. helped Castillo Armas, a pro-western Guatemalan military leader, take over as president of Guatemala. Armas was assassinated just three years later. Haines concludes the Study by stating that U.S. fear of communism caused the CIA to consider the assassination of pro-communist Latin American political leaders such as Arbenz as legitimate “political weapons”, and that “discussion of whether to assassinate Guatemalan Communists and leaders sympathetic to Communist program took place in a historical era quite different from the present.” Haines also notes that it was not until two decades later that a presidential Executive Order banned the CIA from using assassination as a political weapon (Haines).

The U.S. supported overthrow of Arbenz caused political turmoil in Guatemala. After Armas’ assassination in 1958, another military leader, Ydigoras Fuentes, took over as leader of Guatemala (Global Security). During his presidency, Fuentes kept the Guatemalan government aligned with the U.S., but pro-communist insurgent groups formed to fight the American-supported Guatemalan government. The battle between the pro-western, American-supported Fuentes government, and pro-communist insurgents aligned with Cuba and Russia, fueled a civil war in Guatemala that lasted over 30 years. During the civil war, the Guatemalan economy suffered greatly. In addition, many Guatemalan...
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