Cold War in the Global South Essay Samples


For a long time, the United States had been wary of the Soviet Union’s communist ideology even though they fought alongside each other in World War II. To the Soviet Union, the United States’ long refusal to regard the Soviet Union as a legitimate government and a party in the international community always brought resentment. After the war ended, these differences widened into a significant state of distrust and hostility between the world powers. The Soviet’s expansionist mission in Eastern Europe instilled many fears in the U.S about the possibility of Russia expanding its influence and plan to control the world. At the same time, the Soviet was growing weary of continued America’s intervention in its international relations. In such a hostile geopolitical environment, the U.S was geared to contain the spread of communism in other parts of the world; in what became known as the spheres of influence. At the receiving end of these actions were countries in the global south, with Latin America being one of them. The latter (Latin America) became a battleground where the U.S and the Soviet Union contended over influence. This paper explores how this dispute was manifested or expressed in Latin America. 

Commercial and Technical Relations

The cold war conflict between the U.S and the Soviets was expressed in Latin America through commercial interactions between the Latin American countries with either the United States or the Soviets. Such interaction became a center stage where each party examined its influence over the others. It took place on different fronts. 

First and foremost, “during the Cold War, the Soviets increased their commercial and technical relations with many South American countries.” [1] In this space, the Soviet firms engaged in various construction projects, transportation, and the building of hydroelectric stations, among others. Moreover, the value of Soviet trade with countries in the region increased to billions of rubles a year. For example, “in 1984, the commercial activities between the Soviet Union and Argentina were rated at approximately 1.13 million rubles, most of which favored Argentina.” [2]  This expanded commercial relationship created fear and resentment in the United States, which viewed such moves as giving the Soviets the opportunities to expand their communist ideology. In other words, the United States viewed it not just as a commercial threat but as one that might foster communism within its next-door neighbors. 

Secondly, “the Soviet Union bought grains and basic agricultural produce from Latin American countries such as Argentina to exchange semi-finished manufactured goods, chemicals, and transportation machines.” [3] The raw materials from the Latin American countries would become instrumental in the growth and modernization of the Soviet economy. Unfortunately, their increasing economic growth posed a threat to the United States since they could use such power to strengthen their military and boost their influence worldwide. However, such a move did not affect the United States’ commercial presence in Latin American countries since it significantly influenced trade and the political economy of Latin America. For instance, “Brazil and Mexico accounted for the U.S’ largest share of investment in the 80s ranging between $ 8 to 10 billion concurrently. Moreover, about 50% of exports from Latin America went to the United States. At the same time, the trade balance stood at a surplus of $ 1 billion in 1981to a deficit of $ 19 billion deficit four years later.” [4] In essence, from a commercial perspective, the U.S still dominated Latin America. However, the intrusion of the Soviets in the region warned her of the possible spread of communism. In response, the U. S imposed difficult trade restrictions that would bar such countries from actively trading with Russia. 

Also, “the Soviets used the debt issue to affect the relations between Latin America and the U.S through propaganda machinations, active diplomacy, and self-centered policy statements.” [5] Moscow understood the concerns or complaints raised by the countries in South America and played to this tune by showing U.S capitalism as an imperialist tool for exploiting the world’s underdeveloped nations. In contrast, Moscow offered relatively favorable debt terms to entice other countries in the region to join trade partnerships with her. 

Education Program

For a long time, “the United States has been the educational center for most Latin American countries.” [6] Through scholarship programs and education aids, they provided education support and opportunities for students from those countries will low education quality. This was in the interest of the United States as one of the practical measures for spreading democracy and its ideals in the western hemisphere. However, recognizing this strategy, the Soviet Union provided scholarship programs and assistance to many Latin American students and young professionals. “According to the report by the U.S government, between 1979 to 1983, a total of 7 600 students from Latin America and the Caribbean went to the Soviet Union.” [7] Now, the potential harm of this move on the U.S interest was not that there would be a potential of having a significant number of Latin America’s elite convert to Marxism or communism. Instead, the Soviet Union will be seen as a key contributor to the social development of Latin America. Moreover, they were seen as potentially becoming political assets for the Soviet government, inspiring the United States. This was more profound considering the anti-Americanism narratives common among communist-supporting countries led by the Soviet Union. 

Military Competition

The Cold War was largely defined by military competition between the two world powers. The United States and the Soviet Union became involved in the battle of military supremacy and influence after the second world war. In different parts of the world, they stood in opposition to each other in a bid to identify who among them was superior. In Latin America, this competition was expressed in the following ways.

Entry/ Influence on the Local Politics

The Cold War was expressed in parts of Latin America by the clash of political ideologies between communism and democracy, where the U.S and Soviet Union Particularly took a stance. “The communist-dominated Latin American left and operated on the Marxism dialectics of capitalism and imperialism.” [8]  A good example, in this case, is the Cuban Revolution. After World War II, Baptista received the backing of the United States to lead the country on the democratic path into the future. “The country’s long history of economic and other overreliance on the United States and its influence on the sovereignty of Cuba drew nationalist resentment.” [9] The resentment was primarily informed by the anti-imperialism narrative spread by the communist Soviet Union. As a result, while the U.S demonstrated support for Baptista, the Soviets were critical of Washington’s interventionist approach to the domestic affairs of sovereign states. Soviet then became dallying to the nationalist movement that led to the military overthrow of Baptista U. S-backed government. To historians, this was an avenue where each camp of the cold war provided military support for their proponent since a win for either would represent their victory. Indeed, after ousting Batista, the “Fidel Castro -led movement turned Cuba into the first communist state making close association with the Soviet Union and moving away from the U.S backed political system.” [10]. Its victory was considered not just for Cuban but for communism, whose great agitator was the Soviets. 

Moreover, in Cold War Latin America, the Cuban Revolution pitted anti-communist factions against perceived Soviet proxies. “The upsurge in insurgency became imminent in the region following the Castro victory against a U.S-backed president. The insurgents called for a redress of social inequality and political oppression and repressions that were taking place in pro- U.S regimes.” [11] In contrast, the anti-communist parties received military aid from the U.S to strengthen their armed forces against the guerrilla insurgents. Similarly, Cuba, considered a Soviet proxy in the region, offering training and material help to the guerrillas. In each case, the competition was to ensure that one ideology was defeated by another militarily. For instance, “the Nicaraguan revolution was inspired by Castro’s Cuban revolution, which ousted Batista. During this conflict, the United States provided significant military aid to the Contras, the right-wing counter-revolutionary groups.” [12] At the same time, the Soviet Union offered critical support to the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). While the Cold War superpowers did not engage in the direct military encounter, their support for local politics in the region and taking sides in each case exemplify their manifestation in Latin America. 

Crucially, “the peak of military competition between the United States and the Soviet Union in Latin America is marked by the Cuban Missile Crisis.” [13] After receiving Fidel Castro’s approval, the Soviet Union secretly planted missiles in Cuba. The missile was planted with clear intentions that would strategically hinder the United States’ progress in the world. The first reason for placing missiles in Cuba was to counteract the U.S lead in developing and using strategic missiles. Indeed, after the missile bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the U.S proved that it was ahead in military power in the world. Something that the Soviets considered a threat to themselves and the rest of the world. As a result, planting missiles a few miles from the U.S was a barrier to preventing further escalation of nuclear missile development. In the second place, it was a scheme to protect Cuba from a potential United States-led invasion such as the failed one in the Bay of Pigs in 1961. However, the Soviets removed the missile from Cuba in exchange for the United States withdrawing theirs in Turkey and promising no invasion of Cuba. 

In this sense, the fact that the Soviets would agree to plant a nuclear missile in Cuba indicates how significant Latin America was to the Cold War superpowers. As an emerging first declared communist state in the hemisphere, “Cuba became a battleground of the two dominating world ideologies at the time. While the United States was interested in containing the region from communism intrusion, the blatant plantation of the missile south to her border wall proved the Soviet Union’s commitment to expanding communist influence across the world.” [14] Equally, using Cuba as a proxy, the Soviets sent a warning to Washinton about a possible first nuclear war if their aggression continued in pro-communist governments not just in Latin America but the rest of the world. Thus, Cuba became a battleground for an arms race or military competition between the two superpowers. 

Trade Embargo

Many historians view the trade embargo imposed on Cuba as the U.S reaction to the communist-backed revolution of Fidel Castro. To be exact, two years after the overthrow of the Batista regime, the U. S president J. F Kennedy imposed an embargo on exports to Cuba with exemption to food and medicine. However, “while this deal did not completely bar other countries from trading with the island, it incentivized it to a greater extent since most countries feared trading with Cuba since they risk being labeled the pro-communist.” [15]The danger of such a barrier to trade is responsible for the Cuban economic situation since it loses a lot of money that could otherwise be instrumental for its economic growth. The dispute between the United States and Moscow during the Cold War is expressed in Cuba by the punishment for their pro-Soviet activities. 

Foreign Policy Question

The ideological confrontation between the two world powers impacted the intra – Latin American countries’ foreign relations. This is because most of them did not want to go against the U.S position against the Soviets but, at the same time, had a bilateral relationship between themselves. 

First, “the government of Mexico adopted a triangular foreign policy between herself, Cuba, and the U.S. In this policy, Mexico engaged foreign actors, particularly Cuba and the U.S. At the same time, it worked with the United States to target domestic dissidents and leftist critics that favored revolution.” [16]  This type of foreign policy was necessary because the U.S encouraged countries in the western hemisphere, such as Mexico, to disassociate Cuba diplomatically. However, bowing to such pressure would contradict Mexico’s traditional diplomatic relations with Cuba, including respecting her internal affairs. This shift in domestic foreign policy relations characterized the Cold War in the region, where member countries were pushed into adopting new foreign policies that neither made them pro-communist nor anti- neighboring states. 

Secondly, despite their rapture diplomatic ties, Cuba and U. S still looked for the best ways to solve their breach. To achieve this, they used unofficial emissaries such as journalists in one hand and official representatives from other countries. However, these initiatives did not bear fruit largely because of their irreducible minimums. For instance, while Castro demanded a lift of the trade embargo before negotiations could commence, the U.S considered such a request nonnegotiable. Likewise, when the U.S insisted that Cuba abandon their foreign policy, such as its relation with the Soviet Union, Havana considered such a request impossible. Thus, despite confronting each other’s ideologies, Washington and Havana worked underground to solve their foreign relations. 

The Cultural Cold War

Culture became integral to expressing the dispute between communism and communism in Latin America. “The leftists and communist protagonists depicted a more just society under communism. For instance, the Soviets came up with World Peace Council, portraying the West’s capitalist imperialism as exploitative.” [17] On the contrary, the U. S developed Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), in which they depicted communist governments as a totalitarian system where freedom of thought and cultural expression is denied. Latin American artists and intellectuals advanced their political persuasions and worked through these expressions. Thus, cultural expressions expressed the competition between these two ideologies in Latin America. 


Latin America witnessed the Cold War on various fronts, from economic competition to military rivalry, education, economic embargo, and cultural wars. In each case, the central concern was displacing one principle by the other. While the Cold War ended in the early 90s, its impact on the Western hemisphere, particularly on the so-called “spheres of influence,” is evident to date. This is explicit in foreign policy relations between countries and their internal social, economic, and political system.


AGUILA, JUAN M. DEL. “Soviet Activities and U.S. Interests in Latin America.” World Affairs 149, no. 2 (1986): 93–100.

Darnton, Christopher. Rivalry and alliance politics in cold war Latin America. JHU Press, 2014.

Field, Thomas C., Stella Krepp, and Vanni Pettinà. 

Latin America and the global Cold War. The University of North Carolina Press, 2020.

Grandin, Greg. The last colonial massacre: Latin America in the Cold War. University of Chicago Press, 2011.

Williams, Mark Eric. Review of Revisiting the Cold War in Latin America, by Christopher Darnton, Patrick Iber, Renata Keller, William M. LeoGrande, Peter Kornbluh, Morris Morley, and Chris McGillion. Latin American Research Review 52, no. 5 (2017): 916–24.

[1] AGUILA, JUAN M. DEL. “Soviet Activities and U.S. Interests in Latin America (1986). P. 93.

[2] AGUILA, JUAN M. DEL. “Soviet Activities and U.S. Interests in Latin America (1986). P. 94.

3. AGUILA, JUAN M. DEL. “Soviet Activities and U.S. Interests in Latin America (1986). P. 94.

[4]AGUILA, JUAN M. DEL. “Soviet Activities and U.S. Interests in Latin America (1986). P. 94

[5] AGUILA, JUAN M. DEL. “Soviet Activities and U.S. Interests in Latin America (1986). P. 93.

[6] Darnton, Christopher. Rivalry and alliance politics in cold war Latin America (2014). P. 27

[7] AGUILA, JUAN M. DEL. “Soviet Activities and U.S. Interests in Latin America (1986). P. 95.

[8] Field, Thomas C., Stella Krepp, and Vanni Pettinà. 

Latin America and the global Cold War (2020), p. 276.

[9] Grandin, Greg. The last colonial massacre: Latin America in the Cold War (2011), P. 171. 

[10] Williams, Mark Eric. Review of Revisiting the Cold War in Latin America (2017), P. 917.

[11] Williams, Mark Eric. Review of Revisiting the Cold War in Latin America (2017), P. 918.

[12] Grandin, Greg. The last colonial massacre: Latin America in the Cold War (2011), P. 313.

[13] Darnton, Christopher. Rivalry and alliance politics in cold war Latin America (2014), P. 213.

[14] Darnton, Christopher. Rivalry and alliance politics in cold war Latin America (2014), P. 43.

[15] Williams, Mark Eric. Review of Revisiting the Cold War in Latin America (2017), P. 921.

[16] Williams, Mark Eric. Review of Revisiting the Cold War in Latin America (2017), P. 921.

[17] Williams, Mark Eric. Review of Revisiting the Cold War in Latin America (2017), P. 920.