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South America: Engagement and Economy of Effort

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During the four decades of the Cold War, the United States supported numerous authoritarian and repressive governments, including several dictatorships, in South America. This support of governments antithetical to the American democratic model was repugnant in many respects, but was seen by the overwhelming majority of policy makers as a necessary evil. Without such support, those countries might easily have fallen into the hated and feared Communist camp. This certainly was not the only time in the Cold War that less-than-palatable means were used to attain essential ends. Because of the end of East-West polarization, there is an opportunity today to reevaluate this policy. No longer must the United States support unsavory regimes to keep them aligned with the Western world. The opportunity is enhanced by the current positive indicators of South American progress towards elimination of problems that have plagued the continent for decades, if not centuries. Except for Cuba, all the governments in Latin America were elected in free democratic elections. Cash-strapped Cuba is no longer able to export its revolution, so the insurgencies of the past two decades are largely eliminated, although not totally. Border disputes, also not totally eliminated, are being resolved diplomatically or at least contained and minimized when hostilities infrequently erupt. Probably underpinning all these positive trends is the economy. Massive debt problems have virtually disappeared and the economies throughout the region are on an upswing. The potential for continued political and economic success seems good, but chances for retrenchment remain moderately high. It is essential that the United States remain engaged in South America to ensure that these trends come to fruition, but more pressing challenges to more vital interests are found elsewhere and must receive more direct involvement from U.S. policy makers.

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  • Economics and Cost Analysis
  • Government and Political Science

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