H-Diplo Article Review 952 on Pedemonte.  “A Case of ‘New Soviet Internationalism’:  Relations between the USSR and Chile’s Christian Democratic Government, 1964-1970.”

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H-Diplo Article Review 952

21 May 2020

Rafael Pedemonte.  “A Case of ‘New Soviet Internationalism’:  Relations between the USSR and Chile’s Christian Democratic Government, 1964-1970.”  Journal of Cold War Studies 21:3 (Summer 2019):  4-25.  DOI:  https://doi.org/10.1162/jcws_a_00894.

https://hdiplo.org/to/AR952
Editor: Diane Labrosse | Commissioning Editor: Michael E. Neagle | Production Editor: George Fujii

Review by Michelle D. Getchell, U.S. Naval War College

For readers not steeped in the historiography of Soviet-Latin American relations, the significance of Rafael Pedemonte’s title may not be readily apparent.  It is a reference to Tobias Rupprecht’s groundbreaking work, Soviet Internationalism after Stalin, which examines cultural relations between the Soviet Union and Latin America after the death of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and the inauguration of a more activist approach to the so-called ‘Third World’ under his successor, Nikita Khrushchev.[1] Pedemonte’s excellent article makes an important contribution to the burgeoning literature on Soviet-Latin American relations during the Cold War, convincingly demonstrating that Chile’s opening to the Soviet Union, which is typically viewed as a function of the 1970 election of Salvador Allende, was in fact pursued by Allende’s predecessor, Eduardo Frei.

Under Jorge Alessandri, Frei’s predecessor, official relations with the Soviet bloc were virtually nonexistent.  The Frei administration thus inherited a blank slate in this regard; it proceeded to establish formal diplomatic ties, opening the first Chilean embassy in Moscow since 1947 (8).  These were followed by high-level political exchanges, the provision of Soviet economic and technical assistance to Chile, and the implementation of a cultural exchange program.  Readers may be surprised to learn that these cultural contacts were largely apolitical, with the Soviet Ministry of Higher Education even issuing an invitation to “the deeply conservative Archbishop Alfredo Silva Santiago” of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile (16).  According to Pedemonte, this stemmed from the fact that during the 1960s, “Soviet authorities wanted to foster the image of a cultural superpower” (14).  Whether this was a function of the leadership transition from Khrushchev to his successor, Leonid Brezhnev, is left unstated.  Khrushchev’s schizophrenic attitude to art and literature has been noted by his biographers, but our understanding of Brezhnev’s approach to the cultural realm remains incomplete.[2]

Pedemonte’s analysis benefits from extensive research in archival sources, drawing heavily on documents from the archives of both NATO and the Chilean foreign ministry.  Although he uses documents from the State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF), these sources were originally obtained and translated by Olga Ulianova, and it is therefore unclear whether Pedemonte himself reads Russian.  He supplements these archival documents with relevant secondary literature on Soviet-Latin American relations, as well as published primary sources, many of them in Spanish.  The source base for his article is well-rounded and appropriate to the subject matter.

That being said, he could have cast his net a bit wider to explore some of the more recent literature on Soviet-Latin American relations, which might have helped him broaden the historical context of Chile’s opening to the USSR, particularly in light of the Soviet approach to Latin America after the Cuban Missile Crisis, as well as the Sino-Soviet competition for influence in the ‘Third World’—an alliance-shattering development with profound global ramifications that Pedemonte ignores. The Sino-Soviet split reverberated across the Latin American left, cleaving Communist parties into pro-Peking and Moscow-oriented factions, while the example of the Cuban revolution served as a model for other guerrilla groups seeking to obtain power via armed force.[3] After the missile crisis, Mao and the Chinese Communists sharpened their anti-Soviet rhetoric, portraying the Soviets as great-power chauvinists eager to improve relations with the imperialist United States at the expense of proletarian solidarity.[4] This provides key context for understanding Moscow’s attempts to forge and strengthen traditional diplomatic relations with the countries of Latin America. These attempts were complicated by Cuban support for the armed groups that were destabilizing those very regimes to which Moscow was reaching out.

 

Michelle D. Getchell is an assistant professor in the Strategy & Policy Department at the US Naval War College.  She earned her Ph.D. in history at the University of Texas at Austin and is the author of The Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War: A Short History with Documents (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett, 2018).  She is currently working on a book about President Ronald Reagan’s wars on drugs and communism in Latin America.

 

Notes

[1] Tobias Rupprecht, Soviet Internationalism after Stalin: Interaction and Exchange between the USSR and Latin America during the Cold War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

[2] For instance, William Taubman, Khrushchev: The Man and his Era (New York: W.W. Norton, 2003).

[3] See Jeremy Friedman, Shadow Cold War: The Sino-Soviet Competition for the Third World (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

[4] Enrico Maria Fardella, “Mao Zedong and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis,” Cold War History 15:1 (February 2015): 73-88. See also James G. Blight and Philip Brenner, Sad and Luminous Days: Cuba’s Struggle with the Superpowers after the Missile Crisis (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002).