Russian-Latin American Relations

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Russian-Latin American Relations

Russia's diplomatic relations with Latin American began in 1828 with imperial Brazil. This was followed, in the mid-nineteenth century, by relations with Venezuela, Uruguay, and Central America. Ties were not officially established with Argentina until 1885, and with Mexico in 1890.

Between 1810 and 1820, under Czar Alexander and in restoration alliances with Europe, Russia helped stifle revolutionary processes in America. But Russian influence on the continent was countered by the more prudent stance taken by Great Britain, which had an increasing commercial presence in Latin America and was wary of any attempt by European powers to extend their influence over the American continent. Given the delicate balance of power among the great European nations, Russia could do little to cross that threshold. Furthermore, in 1823, with the Monroe Doctrine, the United States had proclaimed that European powers should not intervene in the internal affairs of American nations. Russia's relations with Latin America thus remained weak and intermittent.

The effects of World War I (in which Latin American nations chose to remain neutral), the collapse of Czarist Russia, the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, and the creation of the League of Nations in 1919 altered the world stage. Most Latin American governments joined the League of Nations, from which the USSR was excluded until 1934.


Latin American delegates began participating in the Communist International (Comintern) at its Fourth Congress, held in Moscow in 1922. The evolution of the ideas held by the Comintern leaders exercised a decisive influence over American Communist parties and their strategies, but their refusal to consider the diverse local conditions created resistance among Latin American leftists. Under the directors of Joseph Stalin, before the height of German Nazism in the mid-1930s, Latin American Communist parties promoted the creation of broad national fronts. The strategy of alliances with "reformist" and "progressive" political forces would be maintained during and after World War II.


In the postwar bipolar division of the world, Latin America remained under the influence of the United States and its foreign policy conditioned on economic and military aid provided by the United States. The Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (1947), sponsored by the United States and signed by the majority of Latin American nations, established that the continent would defend itself collectively. Communist parties were repressed and generally not allowed representation in governments. Nevertheless, the USSR maintained trade relations with many Latin American nations (even with those governed by anti-Communist military dictatorships). The Cuban Revolution (1959–1962) had a strong impact on foreign and domestic policy in the region. Excluded from the Organization of American States (OAS), Cuba, with Soviet financial backing, supported Communist guerrilla groups (mainly in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru), while the United States gave its military and economic support to military dictatorships willing to contain potential Communist advances (as in the overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala). In 1962 the Soviets installed long-range missiles in Cuba, provoking the Cuban missile crisis; the United States, with Latin American backing, cut off the island from international affairs and forced the withdrawal of the missiles while promising not to invade the island. With the exception of Mexico, no Latin American nation renewed official relations with Cuba until 1970. In the late twentieth century some Latin American nations experienced strong swings to the left, but the Soviet Union did not always have a direct influence on events. The Soviets did provide military aid to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua following their overthrow of the government in 1979.

With perestroika, the Soviet economic restructuring begun by Mikhail Gorbachev, relations weakened between the USSR and Cuba. The dissolution of the Soviet Union, bringing the end of the cold war, redefined Russian-Latin American ties. In 1992 the Russian Federation was granted permanent observer status in the OAS. It has also established contacts with Mercosur, the regional trade association of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, and with the Andean Community. Cuba, Brazil, Argentina, and Chile continue to be Russia's principal trade partners in the region.

See alsoCommunism; League of Nations; Mercosur; Monroe Doctrine; Nicaragua, Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN); Organization of American States (OAS); Soviet-Latin American Relations.


Bartley, Russell H. Imperial Russia and the Struggle for Latin American Independence, 1808–1828. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1978.

Cisneros, Andrés, and Carlos Escudé, eds. Historia general de las relaciones exteriores de la República Argentina, 4 vols. Buenos Aires: Grupo Editor Latinoamericano, 1998–2003.

Gilbert, Isidoro. El oro de Moscú: La historia secreta de las relaciones argentino-soviéticas. Buenos Aires: Planeta, 1994.

Lafeber, Walter. America, Russia, and the Cold War, 1945–2002, 9th edition. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2004.

Miller, Nicola. Soviet Relations with Latin America, 1959–1987. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Russell, Roberto, ed. Nuevos rumbos en la relación Unión Soviética/América Latina Buenos Aires: Grupo Editor Latinoamericano/FLACSO, 1990.

                                       Vicente Palermo