LATIN AMERICA WAS TRADITIONALLY AN area of marginal importance to the Soviet-bloc economy. The USSR and Eastern Europe developed sig- nificant trade relations with only a few Latin American countries: Cuba from 1959 on; Peru during the military regimes of Velasco Alvarado and MoralesBermtidez (1968- 1980); Chile during Allende's Popular Unity government (1970-1973): Argentina under military rule (1976-1983); Nicaragua during the 1980s; Brazil and Mexico to a much less significant extent. Considered globally, economic relations with Latin America represented a very small proportion of the entire Soviet bloc's trade, and vice versa. From the mid-1970s to 1985-1986, commercial exchange between these regions amounted to no more than 6%-8% of each's total trade. With respect to politics, Soviet-inspired communist par- ties have been relevant in the domestic politics of very few Latin American countries. From the 1940s on, populism, social democracy, social Christian thought, and revolution- ary nationalism have been much more important than Soviet- style Marxism. Certainly, domestic ruling classes and the United States appealed to anti-communism in order to quash any attempt at social change and progressive reform. But repression was directed at a broad scope of popular and democratic political groups, parties, and social organiza- tions, not just those officially aligned with Soviet Marx- ism. Moreover, Latin America's involvement in superpower competition from the 1950s on was always milder and less direct than that of Africa or East Asia. In this part of the world, the USSR's strategy was to take advantage of faits accomplis rather than try to alter geopolitical hegemonies already settled and, to a certain extent, accepted. For the few Latin American regimes that promoted pro- found political and socio-economic reforms, Soviet eco- nomic cooperation and military assistance were essential to confrontpressure from the United States. But Soviet indiffer- ence to struggles against dictatorial rule did not prevent revolutionaries from winning when they enjoyed popular support. Nor were Soviet cooperation and assistance able to prevent political collapse when domestic support dwin- dled. The Cuban case is, without any doubt, special. The Soviet bloc's collapse affects about 80% ofCuba's foreign trade, the entire technological design of its productive structure, and technical supplies to the armed forces. The impact of this forced "delinking" could not be broader and deeper. The sharp drop in supplies from the East, the transfer of interna- tional trade operations to convertible currencies, and the huge oil shortages that resulted. have forced the Cuban government to implement some drastic measures and to look for new ways to "re-link" to the world economy. The "special period" decreed by the Cuban government in 1991 involves a very Cuban version ofeconomic adjustment: an adjustment process guided by unorthodox considerations like social justice and collective participation, which differentiate it from the adjustment strategies prevalent in the rest of Latin America. In addition, Cuba is exploring some new dynamic niches in international trade--electronics, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology-and renewed emphasis on tourism, in order to improve access to convertible currencies.
Tags: USSR, socialism, foreign aid, Cuba