Courtesy Reuters

Latin America: Change or Continuity?

The election of Ronald Reagan in November 1980 may not have actually led to victory parties in the capitals of the more conservative military regimes of Latin America, but it seemed clearly to indicate that there would be a significant change in U.S. policy toward that area. While Jimmy Carter's Latin American policy was not a central issue in the 1980 campaign, it appeared from statements by Reagan's advisers and from the conservative "think tanks" that prepared policy papers during the transition period, that there was likely to be a shift in Latin American policy as dramatic as the one that marked the early days of the Carter Administration-in an exactly opposite direction. While the furtherance of human rights would not be completely abandoned as an objective of U.S. policy (Roger Fontaine, one of Reagan's Latin American advisers, had told a Chilean audience in September that "a concern for human rights did not begin with the Carter administration nor will it end with it"), it was to receive a much lower priority; and with friendly governments it was to be promoted through "quiet diplomacy" behind the scenes rather than through public denunciations and aid cutoffs.

A second shift that seemed likely to affect U.S.-Latin American relations was a renewed emphasis on the East-West conflict and a corresponding lessening of attention to so-called North-South questions such as development assistance and the demands for changes in the economic relations of developed and developing countries, summed up in the so-called New International Economic Order. The number one issue affecting contemporary international relations was considered to be the spread of Soviet expansionism, not the development needs of the Third World.

The shift on the part of a new Republican Administration to a greater emphasis on "realism" in U.S.-Latin American relations, in contrast to the more idealistic programs of the Democrats, followed a long tradition. Franklin Roosevelt's Good Neighbor Policy and the development of the institutions of hemispheric collective security under the

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