The Carter Administration and Latin America: Business as Usual?

Courtesy Reuters

Latin America was very much on the agenda during the first months of the Carter Administration. During that period, visits to, analyses of and speeches about Latin America emerged from the new Administration at a rate not seen since the early days of the Kennedy presidency.1 Addressing the Organization of American States less than three months after taking office, the President spoke boldly of a "new approach" based on "a high regard for the individuality and the sovereignty of each Latin American and Caribbean nation, . . . our respect for human rights, . . . [and] our desire to press forward on the great issues which affect the relations between the developed and the developing nations."

Bold words - and now that almost two years have passed, what does the record say? To what extent have the energy and excitement of the first months been translated into policies and practices that really constitute a "new approach" to U.S.-Latin American relations? And perhaps most important, what are the new issues, problems and contradictions that have been illuminated by the Administration's attempts to translate the rhetoric of its commitment to human rights and democratic practice into a hemispheric foreign policy that is truly different from the conservatism and anti-communism of the immediate and not-so-immediate past?


If, in the early months of 1977, the Administration had been asked what its major specific policy initiatives toward Latin America had been to date, surely the response would have placed at the head of the list the decision to accelerate the negotiation of the Panama Canal treaties and the decision to explore more correct, if not actually warmer, relations with Cuba. By August, after months of intense negotiations, new treaties were in fact ready. On September 7, Presidents Carter and Torrijos met at the Organization of American States and with much pomp and circumstance signed the documents in the presence of 17 Western Hemisphere heads of state and the representatives of nine others. Meanwhile, negotiations were also underway with the Cubans, a

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