Soviets' Latin Influence

March 6, 1987

Report Outline
Special Focus


A quarter-century ago, Juan José Arevalo, the former president of Guatemala, wrote a book about inter-American relations entitled The Shark and the Sardines. In Arevalo's view, the sardines were the Latin American countries, swimming about in awe and terror of the shark, the United States. Many years later, Arevalo told a visitor to his home in Guatemala. “If I were to write that book again, I would call it The Sharks and the Sardines,” implying that there is another giant fish—the Soviet Union—thrashing its way through Latin American and Caribbean waters.

Indeed, in the years since the publication of Arevalo's book, the Soviet Union has vastly increased its presence in the Western Hemisphere. This is true not only for military “hot spots” such as Cuba, Grenada and Nicaragoa, where Soviet involvement had become evident and the Reagan administration argues that U.S. strategic interests are clearly challenged. In addition, the Soviet Union has increased its economic, diplomatic and cultural involvement in the region. As a result, it is emerging as a rival to the United States for influence in Latin America and the Caribbean. In the view of Howard Wiarda, a Latin America expert and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI), “The Soviet Union is a rising presence in the region, and that fact needs to be recognized and treated realistically.”

Just how serious is the Soviet effort to increase its influence in Latin America may become apparent in the months ahead. There is speculation in the United States and Latin American press that Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, will visit several Latin American countries this year. According to news service reports, Gorbachev has mapped out an itinerary that includes Cuba, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina.

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