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 Truman Administration had followed the "dollar diplomacy" and direct military interventions of earlier Republican Administrations. John F. Kennedy's Alliance for Progress, even in its watered-down form under Lyndon Johnson, was abandoned by Richard Nixon in favor of a "low profile" in Latin America, and (with the exception of the Chilean covert interventions of 1970-73 and a half-hearted attempt to develop a "New Dialogue" with Latin America in the mid-1970s) an almost total disregard of the area by Henry Kissinger during his tenure as Secretary of State under Presidents Nixon and Ford. Then in 1977 the Carter Administration took up the banner of human rights, already being promoted as a result of congressional legislation, appointed an activist Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, and used cutoffs of military aid and loan support to indicate U.S. disapproval of a number of the more repressive military and authoritarian governments of Latin America.

Perhaps the most important of the criticisms of the Carter policies were written by a former Democrat, Jeane Kirkpatrick, then associated with Georgetown University and the American Enterprise Institute. In a widely discussed article in Commentary (November 1979), "Dictatorships and Double Standards," Kirkpatrick distinguished between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, and argued that friendly "non-democratic" autocrats in countries such as Iran and Nicaragua had been undermined by U.S. policy, which was "led by its own misunderstanding of the situation to assist actively in deposing an erstwhile friend and ally and installing a government hostile to American interests and policies in the world." The article is supposed to have brought her to the attention of Ronald Reagan and influenced her selection as his Ambassador to the United Nations. Before she took up her post, however, a second article was published in Commentary (January 1981) that focused the criticisms more specifically on the Carter policy toward Latin America. In "U.S. Security and Latin America" she argued that the Carter policies:

not only proved incapable of dealing with the problems of Soviet/Cuban expansion in the area, they have positively contributed to them and to the alienation of major nations, the growth of neutralism, the destabilization of friendly governments, the spread of Cuban influence, and the decline of U.S. power in the region. Hence one of the first and most urgent tasks of the Reagan administration will be to review and revise the U.S. approach to Latin America and the Caribbean.

The supporting evidence for Mrs. Kirkpatrick's argument was drawn mainly from the Nicaraguan case where, it was asserted, the Carter Administration "acted repeatedly and at critical junctures to weaken the government of Anastasio Somoza and to strengthen his opponents" in the service of a "globalist utopian" approach, promoted by a book written a decade earlier by Zbigniew Brzezinski under the auspices of the Council on Foreign Relations, the two reports of the Linowitz Commission on U.S.-Latin American Relations, and the conclusions of a study group of the Institute for Policy Studies-the last demonstrating "how strong had become the affinity between the views of the foreign policy establishment and the New Left." The remedy, Kirkpatrick concluded, for the errors of the Carter Administration was, like their cause, intellectual. It was necessary to abandon the ideological globalism of the previous Administration, to build on the concrete circumstances of each foreign policy case, and to assess alternative policies in terms of their impact on "the security of the United States and on the safety and autonomy of the other nations of the hemisphere."

The Kirkpatrick approach was typical of the thinking of the new Administration.1 Reagan and his advisers came into office determined to alter significantly what they perceived to be the deleterious direction of the previous Administration's policy toward Latin America (and the world) in two areas-the relation of human rights to security considerations, and the priority given to the communist threat. Every new Administration comes to office convinced that it will correct the mistakes of its predecessors. In this case, however, this involved more than a shift in emphasis back toward a more traditional balance-of-power diplomacy of the Kissinger variety. National security was to be redefined as a militant anti-communism, and the U.S. stance in Latin America and the world was to be one of strength, rejecting the "gun-shy" attitudes of the previous policy. A military man-although one whose career had been as much political as military-was made Secretary of State and took office determined to "draw the line" against the Soviet Union and Cuba after the "losses" in Iran and Nicaragua.

Now, a year later, it may be possible to assess the impact of this determination. In what ways has U.S. policy toward Latin America changed, and in what ways have there been significant continuities in that policy despite the change in Administrations?


El Salvador was the first area in Latin America where the new Administration attempted to demonstrate that it was following a different policy from that of its predecessor. Long a backwater in an area of the world to which the United States paid little attention, Central America had been catapulted onto the front pages in 1978 and 1979 with the national uprising in Nicaragua against the 40-year reign of the Somoza family which culminated in the victory of the Sandinista-led revolutionaries on July 19, 1979. In neighboring El Salvador, a tiny overpopulated statelet the size of Massachusetts which had been ruled by the military and "the fourteen families," the shock waves of the Somoza overthrow had sparked a reformist coup in October 1979, led by army colonels in league with civilian politicians who established a junta to carry out long-overdue social and economic reforms. Several civilian members of the original junta resigned three months later, citing the lack of progress on reform and continuing repression by the armed forces and security services, but the military managed to strike a deal with the largest Salvadoran political party, the Christian Democrats, whose presidential candidate, José Napoleón Duarte, had been arrested, tortured and exiled after an apparent victory in the 1972 presidential elections. The new regime called for continued implementation of a reform program which included nationalization of banks and foreign trade, and an ambitious agrarian reform.

The Carter Administration had maintained cool relations with the regime of General Carlos Romero before his overthrow in October 1979. Along with Guatemala and Brazil, Romero had rejected U.S. military aid in 1977 just before the United States itself cut off Salvadoran military assistance because of human rights violations. After the reformist coup, "non-lethal" military aid involving transportation and communications equipment was resumed in 1980, then in December it was cut off again, following the murder of three American nuns and a lay social worker. In early January 1981, two U.S. representatives of the American Institute for Free Labor Development and the head of the Salvadoran land reform program were murdered in the Sheraton Hotel of San Salvador, but as the Carter Administration received increasing intelligence evidence of the shipment of U.S. weapons from communist sources through Cuba to the Salvadoran guerrilla movement, it authorized the renewal of military aid without the lethal vs. non-lethal distinction.

The presidential authorization of the aid renewal on January 16, 1981, four days before Ronald Reagan took office, came in the midst of a ten-day "final offensive" by the guerrilla opposition aimed at overthrowing the Salvadoran government before Reagan took power. The offensive and the accompanying call for a general strike were unsuccessful in securing popular support, but the new Administration decided to make El Salvador an example of its new approach to what it described as a "textbook case of indirect aggression by Communist powers through Cuba." That description was the conclusion of a collection of documents, Communist Interference in El Salvador (often referred to as the State Department White Paper on El Salvador), and an accompanying summary Special Report published on February 23, 1981. Three days earlier Secretary of State Alexander Haig conducted a briefing in which he referred to the flow of several hundred tons of military equipment to the Salvadoran guerrillas from "the Soviet bloc, Vietnam, Ethiopia, and radical Arabs," with "most of this equipment, not all but most," entering via Nicaragua (New York Times, February 21, 1981). Haig also referred in his briefing to the need "to deal with die source of the problem and that is Cuba," but did not specify what actions were to be taken in pursuit of that goal. The State Department documents, discovered in El Salvador in November 1980 and January 1981, included a detailed account of a trip in May and June by Shafik Handal, head of the Salvadoran Communist Party, to Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, Vietnam and Ethiopia in search of arms-preferably those of Western make-as well as subsequent discussions in Havana and Managua to arrange the transshipment of the arms to El Salvador.2

The State Department publications and the announcement that U.S. economic and military aid would be increased, and advisers sent to train the Salvadorans in the use of the helicopters and patrol boats provided, set off an intense public debate in the media, with cover stories in Time and Newsweek on the background and nature of the Salvadoran conflict. Congress received a barrage of letters, many of them from church-affiliated groups, opposing U.S. military aid to El Salvador, and the press publicized the continuing killings of innocent civilians by both sides-with the majority of the killing being carried out by those associated with the government security forces. Church and human rights lobbyists pressured the congressional committees that were considering the Administration's request for an increase in military and economic aid to El Salvador.3 In El Salvador itself, the junta, now headed by Duarte as president, announced that it planned to hold elections for a constitutional assembly in March 1982, with presidential elections scheduled for 1983. When Colonel Roberto d'Aubuisson, a rightist military man who had been living in exile, returned with the announced intention of overthrowing the junta, the U.S. Embassy took an active role in discouraging him, and President Reagan surprised some of his conservative supporters by endorsing the Salvadoran agrarian reform program, including its successful effort to transform the 350 largest landholdings into agricultural cooperatives.

The public debate and heavy constituent mail on El Salvador had a direct impact on the actions of the two congressional committees considering the Administration's request for $26 million in military aid and $87.7 million in economic assistance in the coming fiscal year. Over Secretary Haig's objections both committees voted to place conditions on U.S. aid requiring that the President certify every six months that the Salvadoran government was making "a concerted and significant" effort to control human rights violations including those by its own armed forces, and was committed to holding free elections and agrarian reform, and to negotiation with opposition groups for a peaceful settlement. The House version originally included an authorization of a congressional veto of further aid within 30 days of the presidential report, but that was later dropped, and the final version adopted by the full Senate in September also provided that the government was only required to be willing to negotiate with "groups which renounce and refrain from further military or paramilitary opposition activity."

The unanimity of the organized church groups in Washington in their opposition to military aid to El Salvador was something of a foreign policy first. Unlike Bishop Rivera y Damas who in his weekly homilies in San Salvador was careful to emphasize that both sides were guilty of human rights violations and impeding a peaceful solution, the U.S. churchmen, in calling for a cutoff of all U.S. military aid to El Salvador, emphasized only the well-reported abuses of the government security forces, giving little or no attention to the problems of the outside arms being supplied to the guerrillas and the murder and assassinations which they carried out.4

The opponents of U.S. military aid, including 35 members of the House of Representatives led by Gerry Studds of Massachusetts, argued that the level of violence by the regime's security forces and by paramilitary groups associated with them fell within section 502B of the Foreign Assistance Act, which provides for a cutoff of aid to any government engaged in "a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights." They also claimed that an aid cutoff would force the junta to negotiate a cease-fire and coalition government with the Frente Democrático Revolucionario (FDR), the exile opposition alliance of Social Democrats, former Christian Democrats, and other groups, linked since mid-1980 to the Marxist guerrilla Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). (The credibility of FDR-FMLN offers to negotiate was somewhat undermined by the publication of a document, subsequently admitted to be authentic, entitled Proposal for International Mediation and dated February 3, which described the policy of support for negotiations as aimed at gaining "time to improve our internal military situation" following the defeat of the final offensive.)

West Europeans were divided in their reactions to the U.S. policy in El Salvador. Christian Democrats generally supported Duarte, while Social Democrats favored negotiations with the FDR, which was headed by a fellow party member, Guillermo Ungo. Concern about the European attitudes led to the dispatch of Lawrence Eagleburger, the new Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, on a mission to Europe to explain and defend the U.S. position.

In El Salvador, the Duarte proposal for constituent assembly elections was undercut by the continuing violence on both sides, and the likelihood that opposition leaders returning from exile would soon meet with assassination. Nevertheless the proposal for elections was endorsed by the United States, and when, following a lengthy behind-the-scenes ideological struggle, Thomas Enders, a career Foreign Service Officer, was appointed Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America, he made a public speech in July asserting that only a "political solution" could heal that divided country. That solution was the 1982 and 1983 elections, "open to all who are willing to renounce violence and abide by the procedures of democracy." Enders ruled out negotiations with the FDR-FMLN since "we should recognize that El Salvador's leaders will not and should not grant the insurgents through negotiations a share of power the rebels have not been able to win on the battlefield." (New York Times, July 17, 1981.)

It was precisely a negotiated solution of the kind Enders opposed that the French and Mexican governments seemed to be aiming at, a month later, when they recognized the FDR-FMLN as "a representative political force"-while not breaking their diplomatic relations with the Salvadoran junta. The Mexican-French initiative did not seem to move the Salvadoran situation closer to a solution, although it received the editorial endorsement of The New York Times. Led by Venezuela's Christian Democratic government, nine Latin American countries denounced the statement as favoring those "who through violence are trying to twist the democratic destiny and the free self-determination of the people of El Salvador"; five others also indicated their opposition, leaving only Nicaragua aligned with Mexico, and Panama uncommitted.

By fall, the Salvadoran war seemed to have reached a stalemate. The rebels took over a small provincial town for a few days in late August, and were in control of the countryside in parts of the north and center of the country, but their principal efforts were now devoted to economic sabotage culminating in the dynamiting of one of the two major bridges linking the eastern third of El Salvador with the rest of the country. The test case of the new Administration's resolve to "draw the line" and contain the spread of communism had simmered down to grudging and conditional support for continued economic and military aid by a reluctant Congress, occasional aggressive remarks by the Secretary of State about Cuban and Nicaraguan support for the guerrillas, and a general lack of enthusiasm for a civil war that seemed to have no solution. In September, when President Duarte came to argue his case on American television and in Congress, he received surprisingly little attention.

Later in the year the United States withdrew some of its 52 advisers but also announced that 1,500 Salvadorans would receive training in the United States or Panama. In December the Organization of American States voted 22 to 3, with Mexico, Nicaragua and Granada voting in the negative, to support the March 1982 elections, and to send observers if requested to guarantee the "purity" of the vote. Yet critics like Mexico noted that without the participation of the Left opposition the elections were unlikely to resolve what appeared to be an interminable civil war.

The Reagan Administration after nearly a year of deep involvement in El Salvador had not achieved the quick military victory it had sought. Indeed, its policy did not seem to differ much, except in its rhetorical emphasis on the external aspects of the problem, from that of the Carter Administration. It too supported the political center, free elections and social reform, as a way to prevent a takeover by the Left, and it seemed no more capable than was Carter of helping Duarte and the Christian Democrats to control the excesses of the security forces and paramilitary groups, whose continued indiscriminate killings undermined the U.S. argument that it was defending democracy against totalitarianism.5

The problem seemed intractable. As the leading presidential candidate in Costa Rica, Luis Alberto Monge, told a U.S. congressional delegation in September, "Those who hold the real power on both sides are beyond the reach of the democratic forces on both sides." An international peacekeeping force was suggested to guarantee the security of the opposition in the March elections, but the Salvadoran armed forces rejected this as a violation of national sovereignty. A victory by the FDR-FMLN might produce the mixed economy and pluralistic democracy that the Social Democratic leader of the FDR, Guillermo Ungo, promised, but-in contrast to the Nicaraguan Sandinista guerrillas two years earlier-no one had a real understanding of the intentions of the leadership of the guerrilla FMLN except that they were Marxist-Leninists and that one of their representatives, Salvador Cayetano Carpio, had made statements that elicited invidious comparisons to Pol Pot in Kampuchea. Others, rejecting the Pol Pot analogy, talked of a "Zimbabwe solution," but there was neither leadership of the stature of Robert Mugabe, nor a neutral military like the British army.6 As the year ended, the House Foreign Affairs Committee called on the President to press for "unconditional discussions among the major political factions" but both sides maintained their previous positions-the Duarte government demanding a renunciation of violence by the Left, and the FDR-FMLN calling for negotiations which would give priority attention to a restructuring of the armed forces.


Nicaragua was the second country where the Administration was determined to pursue a different policy. The 1980 Republican Party platform had deplored "the Marxist-Sandinista takeover in Nicaragua" and spoken of "support of the efforts of the Nicaraguan people to establish a free and independent government." Yet it was unclear what policy initiatives would be taken by the new Administration to achieve that goal.

As in the case of El Salvador, the Carter Administration had already toughened its policy toward Nicaragua before the inauguration of Ronald Reagan. In January 1981, faced with the evidence of a substantial increase in arms shipments through Nicaragua to El Salvador just before the final offensive there, the Carter Administration delayed the projected disbursement of the remaining $15 million of the $75 million U.S. aid program voted by Congress in 1980, and cancelled authorization of negotiations for the renewal of Public Law 480 long-term low interest loans for the sale of wheat and cooking oil. In September 1980, President Carter had certified, as required by Congress, that Nicaragua was not "aiding or abetting or supporting acts of violence or terrorism in other countries," but in January, with new evidence of Nicaraguan government involvement in the supply of arms to the Salvadoran rebels, the new aid was not extended.

The Reagan Administration continued the review of Nicaragua aid policy and despite a reported cutoff of arms flows from Nicaragua to El Salvador for three weeks in March a formal decision by the President to suspend the aid was announced on April 1. Yet Reagan did not demand repayment of the $60 million already expended (as authorized by the congressional legislation), previously contracted aid disbursements continued, and at the end of 1981 seven million dollars in unexpended but contracted aid still remained. The Nicaraguan government carried out a national and international propaganda campaign against the attempt to "starve Nicaragua into submission," and secured donations of wheat from Argentina, the Soviet Union and Bulgaria as well as a long-term credit sale of $15 million for wheat and oil from Canada.7 In April, Libya announced a cash loan of $100 million and Mexico extended credit for all the petroleum it sold to Nicaragua during 1981, rather than providing a 30 percent loan as previously agreed upon. While the U.S. aid extended to Nicaragua during the first year of the Reagan Administration dropped sharply from the $110 million spent during the last 18 months of the Carter Administration, "pipeline" aid continued, assistance to the private sector amounted to $6.9 million between January and August, and aid from other countries more than offset the reductions in U.S. assistance. Nicaragua's economic prospects for 1982 were not bright, but the U.S. aid cutoff was not likely to be in itself decisive. However, as a symbolic act it communicated the continuing hostility of the American Administration, while not achieving any effect on arms flows.

Press reports began to appear of a training camp outside Miami of Cuban, Panamanian and Nicaraguan exiles as well as of raids into Nicaragua by exiles based in southern Honduras. The Sandinista government pointed to these groups to justify the expansion of its army to a projected 50,000 soldiers, plus a 200,000-man militia. The inflow of an estimated $28 million of Cuban and Soviet arms and an increase to 1,500 in the number of Cuban military and security advisers, along with renewed Nicaraguan government pressures on opposition party leaders, unions, radio stations and press (La Prensa, the respected newspaper that had spearheaded the opposition to Somoza, was closed on various pretexts five times between June and November) were cited by Secretary Haig to justify the need to take countermeasures against the military buildup. News leaked out about a Haig order to prepare papers on policy options that included a naval blockade against Nicaragua (New York Times, November 5, 1981). Reports were circulated-quickly denied by Cuba-about the dispatch of 600 Cuban troops to the Salvadoran rebels-and the Secretary of State spoke ominously about the need to arrest the "drift toward totalitarianism" in Nicaragua. Yet Haig's statements were privately criticized in press leaks by other government officials (especially in the Defense Department, which feared the domestic and international impact of a "Bay of Pigs" in Nicaragua) or were publicly questioned by other governments with which the United States maintained good relations-such as Mexico and Venezuela. At a press conference in November, President Reagan declared that there were "no plans" for the use of American troops "anywhere in the world."8

The verbal escalation, it was later revealed (Washington Post, December 10, 1981), followed two months of secret negotiations between Assistant Secretary of State Enders and the Nicaraguan government. Enders apparently offered a joint reaffirmation of both countries' OAS obligations to refrain from aggression or interference, a renewal of economic and technical assistance, and U.S. action against anti-Sandinista exiles on its soil-in return for Nicaraguan termination of arms flows to the Salvadoran rebels and de-escalation of its military buildup.The exchanges ended with a note from Nicaragua on October 31 calling on the United States to enforce its own laws against the exile training camps and to cease generating military tension in Central America and the Caribbean. In November, U.S. influence seems to have been exercised to prevent a $30 million Nicaraguan loan from appearing on the agenda of the Executive Board of the Inter-American Development Bank. Yet the Administration requested $33 million in new aid for Nicaragua for 1982 (over Administration objections, the House restricted it to the private sector, with aid for the public sector permitted only if there is "progress" toward free elections), and the announcement in early January 1982 that France had agreed to a $17 million program of "nonoffensive" military aid to Nicaragua weakened the argument that it had become a military outpost of Cuba and the Soviet Union.

Vigorous criticism of the proposals for action against Nicaragua came from the opposition groups within Nicaragua, since they realized that such actions would destroy the very groups that the Administration was purportedly attempting to save. While the imprisonment in October of three leaders of the Private Enterprise Council (COSEP) for accusing the government of engaging in "a Marxist-Leninist adventure that will only bring more bloodshed," and the apparently related resignation of the Nicaraguan Ambassador to Washington, seemed to confirm the Haig assertions, the Nicaraguan opposition continued to treat with the Sandinista government: after the government published a draft Political Parties Law, two opposition parties rejoined the quasi-legislative Council of State to discuss it. La Prensa was still being published (with a larger circulation than the two pro-government papers combined), there was no mass exodus by the middle and entrepreneurial classes, the church made public criticisms of the regime's policies in statements by the bishops' conference and the archbishop's Sunday homilies, and the Marxist-dominated Sandinista regime continued to permit a situation of "harassed pluralism" that contrasted with the Administration talk of totalitarianism.

At the end of the year the continuing flow of arms and advisers to Nicaragua from Cuba and the reported training of Nicaraguans in Bulgaria to fly Soviet MiG fighters led to Administration concern that Nicaragua would become, in Secretary Haig's words, a "platform for terror and war." In his speech to the OAS Assembly in St. Lucia in December, Haig indicated that the United States was "prepared to join others" to prevent a Central American arms race. Yet, he also spoke of U.S. efforts to normalize relations with Nicaragua, and said: "If Nicaragua addresses our concerns about interventionism and militarization, we are prepared to address their concerns. We do not close the door to the search for proper relations." (New York Times, December 5, 1981.)

In an interview on his return from the meeting, Haig again ruled out the use of U.S. troops in Central America but discussed increased military and economic cooperation with other Central American countries, and seemed concerned to allay fears of unilateral U.S. actions of the type that had been discussed in press reports in November. Once again strong words had been followed by a relative restraint in policy-conduct that one press observer described as the Administration's "Caribbean Climbdown" ( Washington Post, December 8, 1981.)

A similar pattern can be discerned in two other Central American countries. In May, Acting Assistant Secretary of State John Bushnell testified to Congress that the Administration planned to resume military aid to Guatemala to combat the spread of insurgency there, if the Guatemalan government gave evidence of attempting to control the violence perpetrated by military and paramilitary forces (estimated by the U.S. Embassy at 300 deaths a month). In June, it classified a shipment of jeeps to Guatemala as nonmilitary in character in order to circumvent a congressional ban on military aid to that country. Yet when retired Lieutenant General Vernon Walters visited Guatemala as Ambassador at Large to suggest an effort to control the violence and support for a civilian candidate in the scheduled March 1982 elections, the Guatemalans were unresponsive. The maneuver with the jeeps also provoked such criticism from Congress and the media, and the continuing stories of atrocities from Guatemala (including the assassination in July of a priest from Oklahoma who had earlier received death threats from right-wing groups) were so horrifying that no further movement in the direction of closer cooperation with the Guatemalan military was politically possible.

The March 1982 elections did not offer hope for a change. Unlike the situation in El Salvador, assassination and intimidation had effectively destroyed the Center and the Left within Guatemala; only one of the four presidential candidates was a civilian, and all were identified with the Right or extreme Right. Yet despite the increase in guerrilla activities, especially among the Indians who comprise 52 percent of the population, the insurgents were divided, the Indians themselves spoke different languages, and the Guatemalans were able to secure arms from other countries-notably Israel-so that it was difficult to make a case for an urgent need for U.S. military aid. Thus the Carter policy toward Guatemala remained essentially in effect.

Similarly, the existing policy in Honduras of support for a transition to civilian rule after 18 years of military domination remained unchanged, as the Hondurans elected a civilian president and congress from the Liberal Party on November 29th. Military aid was increased to ten million dollars, more advisers sent, and "small-scale" naval maneuvers held off the coast, but it is difficult to see in what important respect the policy was different from that of the Carter Administration. Democracy and free elections remained the U.S.-supported alternative to extremists on the Left and Right.

Democracy, free elections and anti-militarism have a long history in another key Central American country-Costa Rica-which dissolved its army in 1948. In August, when Jeane Kirkpatrick in a press interview in Lima suggested that the United States might aid Costa Rica against terrorism and subversion by offering special police training, her statement was denounced in public letters by the Costa Rica president, who stated categorically that "Costa Rica does not want military aid." (Miami Herald, August 13, 1981; New York Times, August 19, 1981.) While the arrest of a Costa Rican terrorist group in June had shocked Costa Rican opinion, it was more upset by the 500 percent devaluation of its currency and the soaring unemployment rate. The likely victor in the February 1982 presidential elections, Luis Alberto Monge, suggested that the best way the United States could help would be with economic assistance for the sagging Costa Rican economy. New funds for low-interest food loans were made available, and when the Costa Rican aid appropriation came up before Congress, an extra emergency appropriation of $25 million was voted by the House, but the combination of declining coffee prices and the increased cost of imported oil produced a continuing balance-of-payments problem that did not seem amenable to any short-term solution.


In September Belize, the former British Honduras, became independent, joining the many other mini-states of the Caribbean that had recently achieved that status. It was in the Caribbean that the new Administration took its most significant step in its relationship with the rest of the hemisphere-the so-called Caribbean Basin Initiative. Like so many other Administration policies in the area it was initially conceived as an explicitly anti-communist effort, but again like others it was considerably modified in application. (As in other cases it marked a further development of initiatives taken by the Carter Administration, which had supported the establishment of the World Bank group on the Caribbean that resulted in a quadrupling of external aid to the region.)

Reagan Administration attention was focused on the Caribbean by the stunning victory in October 1980 of Edward Seaga's Jamaica Labor Party over Michael Manley's People's National Party. Seaga represented private enterprise, anti-communism, and a welcome to foreign investment, after years of rule by a Manley government which had been socialist in philosophy, friendly to Cuba in foreign policy, and critical of the leading foreign investors, particularly the U.S. and Canadian bauxite companies. After his election Seaga called for a "mini-Marshall Plan" for the Caribbean, and from the outset he echoed the militant anti-communism of the new U.S. Administration. As a showcase for the Reagan philosophy of encouragement of private investment, Jamaica received support from the new Administration for a $600 million loan from the International Monetary Fund with only mild conditions attached, Reagan appointed a U.S. Business Committee on Jamaica chaired by David Rockefeller to promote foreign investment in that country, and the Administration's foreign aid request for Jamaica was nearly doubled to $90 million.

For Castro and his new satellite, the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada, a very different set of policies was adopted. The United States attempted unsuccessfully to restrict its donation to the Caribbean Development Bank to prohibit its use for Grenada; the existing aid program to Grenada was terminated; and it tried to persuade the Europeans not to finance an airport extension in that island, arguing that it would be used to transport and supply Cuban troops engaged in intervention abroad. As for Cuba, legislation was introduced to establish Radio Martí, an exile propaganda station similar to Radio Free Europe; the Administration began to enforce the legislative restrictions on trade with Cuba more strictly, even to the extent of requiring licenses for the import of Cuban publications; and in November Secretary Haig's earlier statements about getting at "the source" of Salvadoran guerrilla arms were given concrete focus with news reports that in June the Pentagon had been asked to prepare an option paper on Cuba which included such possible steps as an arms blockade and even an invasion.

In mid-December Assistant Secretary of State Enders testified to the Western Hemisphere Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about what he called "a new Cuban strategy for uniting the Left" in the countries of the Caribbean Basin. Tracing a pattern of action beginning with Nicaragua in 1978 and continuing in El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, and currently in Honduras, Enders argued that the new Cuban approach was to bring together the various feuding leftist guerrilla groups and promise them arms and training if they agreed to unite and adopt a common strategy of armed struggle under Cuban guidance. The newly unified groups were instructed to attempt to form alliances with democratic movements on the Left, especially the social democrats, and to use them to get support from their counterparts in Europe. In addition, their guerrilla campaigns typically included economic sabotage aimed at undermining the deteriorating economies and tourist trade in order to exacerbate social unrest.

Enders' testimony was buttressed by a report submitted to the Committee on "Cuba's Renewed Support for Violence in Latin America." Besides reviewing the evidence on Cuba's military aid to Nicaragua and the Salvadoran guerrillas, it detailed current Cuban efforts to subvert democratically elected governments in Colombia (an effort to unify the leftist opposition, and the training of 100 to 200 "M-19" guerrillas whose capture in February had led to the suspension of relations between Colombia and Cuba), in Costa Rica (the use, documented by a Costa Rican congressional committee, of Costa Rican territory to smuggle arms to El Salvador, and the training in the Soviet Union and Cuba of Costa Ricans involved in terrorism), in Jamaica (smuggling of arms used in attacks against the opposition during the 1980 elections, as well as covert military training of Jamaican students in Cuba), and in Honduras (attempts to unify the Left, Honduran attendance at training courses in Cuba, and the discovery of three "safehouses" in November with sizable arms caches).9

Enders concluded that "we must communicate to Cuba that the costs of escalating its intervention in the region will be very high." But the only specific measures he mentioned were the exile radio station and a tightening of the economic embargo and refugee controls. At the end of the year countermeasures against Poland became more important than action against Cuba and once again tough talk was not followed up by corresponding action.

There was action, however, on a variation on the Seaga proposal designed to strengthen the weak and dependent economies of the Caribbean states-and by extension to give multilateral support to the troubled Central American economies (thus El Salvador magically became a Caribbean and not a Pacific state). The Caribbean Basin Initiative, as it was called, was not a Marshall Plan at all. It was a program to promote trade, investment, and aid to the Caribbean and Central America by the United States, Canada, Mexico and Venezuela (and later possibly Europe and Japan) on a bilateral basis (thus bypassing the thorny issue of aid to Cuba and Grenada), and encouraging each of the four donor countries to increase their economic support for the area. The proposal tied in with existing programs such as the Mexican-Venezuelan 30 percent discount loans on petroleum for Central America, as well as Canada's already announced increased aid to the English-speaking Caribbean, while focusing attention on the weak economies of the Caribbean and Central American states with the hope that such steps as a regional investment insurance program and the lowering or elimination of tariff barriers could promote development and create jobs throughout the area.

The United States planned to make available to the countries in the area only a little more than a tenth of Seaga's original request-and this included the Central American countries as well as the Caribbean-so that it was not an ambitious program. However, it included some new elements, such as proposals for a temporary one-way elimination of tariffs for Caribbean exports (without the restrictions of the Generalized System of Preferences from which they already benefit) and the extension of special tax credits to investors. Whether the program could make much of an impact on the massive unemployment in the area, resolve the problem of declining export revenues from sugar and coffee or produce the takeoff in economic development outlined by its backers remained doubtful. However, it dramatized the Administration's concern with the area, and did so in a way which, because of the necessity of bringing in the other countries, including Mexico and Canada, could not take on the cold war role that had originally been assigned to it.


The fact that countries with as different policies in the area as Mexico and the United States could cooperate in the program shows how flexible it was and how cordial the relationship between the United States and Mexico had become. Shortly after his election Reagan had taken the unusual step of meeting the Mexican President on Mexican territory, and during 1981 Presidents Reagan and López Portillo met four times. Those meetings indicated a dramatic turnaround in U.S.-Mexican relations, based more on the personal relationship which the two leaders developed than on any agreement on policy. On Cuba, El Salvador and Nicaragua they remained far apart, and significant differences remained in the areas of Mexican undocumented workers in the United States, fishing rights, and Mexico's refusal to join the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, but the two countries seemed to be able to transcend their differences and maintain cordial relations even when their policy positions were far apart.

A striking example of this was the North-South meeting of eight developed and 14 developing countries organized by Mexico at Cancún at the end of October. The Mexicans respected U.S. insistence that Cuba not be invited-despite Mexico's long-standing close relations with Castro. President Reagan agreed to participate despite U.S. opposition to the basic thrust of the Third World countries' demands, especially the attempt to give the one nation-one vote General Assembly the power to overrule the specialized economic agencies such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank where voting is weighted according to economic contributions. At the two-day meeting in Cancún the U.S. President again demonstrated his talent for disarming those who disagree with him with his personal charm, and the meeting concluded with an agreement that global negotiations to aid the poor nations should be held at the United Nations "on a basis to be mutually agreed and in circumstances offering the prospect of meaningful progress with a sense of urgency." The question of how decisions were to be made was simply sidestepped, and while President Reagan was correct in asserting on his return that "we did not waste time on unrealistic rhetoric or unattainable objectives" (New York Times, October 25, 1981), the meeting did not achieve any concrete results except to allow an informal exchange of views between North and South on such issues as agricultural development, energy, and international financial relations.

On the continuing problem of illegal Mexican migrants, some changes in U.S. policy were expected since Reagan as a candidate had spoken of the need for stricter controls coupled with an expanded "guest worker" program. In February a Commission appointed by President Carter and headed by Father Theodore Hesburgh issued a report recommending a one-time amnesty for illegal aliens already in the country, somewhat enlarged ceilings for legal immigrants from Mexico and the adoption of civil and criminal penalties for U.S. employers who knowingly hire illegal workers. President Reagan appointed his own Cabinet Task Force and in July the Administration announced that it planned to introduce legislation providing for conditional amnesty for illegal immigrants living in the United States for ten years, an experimental "guest worker" program involving 50,000 Mexicans a year over the next two years, as well as employer penalties.10 As in the case of earlier recommendations to deal with the problem, it seemed far from clear that the Administration proposals would produce any concrete action on the part of Congress, but near the end of the year the death of 16 members of a boatload of Haitians seeking to enter Florida illegally focused renewed attention on the problem.

Behind the public disagreements on international policy, immigration and fisheries is the reality of the increasing economic interpenetration of the Mexican and U.S. economies. Seventy percent of Mexico's exports and 60 percent of its imports are to and from the United States, and trade between the two countries has increased 50 percent a year in recent years. Despite a battery of Mexican regulatory legislation, U.S. investment in Mexico increased from $4.4 billion to nearly $6 billion in 1980 (Survey of Current Business, August 1981), and 70 percent of Mexico's oil exports go to the United States. As a candidate Ronald Reagan had endorsed a further integration of the two economies along with that of Canada in a North American Common Market, but both Canada and Mexico publicly rejected the proposal in January. Mexico saw the proposal as the institutionalization of a dependent relationship, giving the United States preferential access to its energy supplies and cheap labor, while preventing Mexico from promoting its exports and regulating foreign investment in support of domestic industry. Existing Mexican regulatory measures and subsidies have created charges of unfair practices in international trade that have already led to the imposition by the United States of a countervailing duty on some leather goods, but for the present Mexico seems to have the best of both worlds, benefiting from special tariff arrangements for border assembly plants, and from exemptions for many of its exports under the Generalized System of Preferences for Third World countries, while continuing to implement legislation that limits and discriminates against foreign-usually U.S.-trade and investment.


The other major policy area where the new Administration was determined to alter the Carter approach was the relative priority given to human rights in relation to security considerations. The previous Administration had not been oblivious to security considerations or unwilling to allow them to override human rights concerns in its relations with such countries as the Philippines and South Korea. But in Latin America those considerations appeared to be less salient, and the repression by certain governments, notably in the Southern Cone (Chile, Argentina and Uruguay), so serious that the Carter human rights policy had its most evident impact in relations with those countries. Already before Carter's election, the Congress had established a separate Human Rights Bureau in the Department of State and required annual reports from the State Department on the human rights situation of all recipients of U.S. aid. But at the beginning of the Carter Administration the Executive took further initiatives, reducing or eliminating U.S. aid to several Latin American governments, voting against loans from international financial institutions on explicit human rights grounds, and supporting action by the Organization of American States and the United Nations condemning human rights violations.

Chile was the first and most frequent object of these sanctions. Congress adopted increasingly severe restrictions on military aid and sales between 1974 and 1976; loans to Chile by the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank were opposed by Carter appointees; and a series of sanctions including exclusion from joint naval maneuvers and prohibition of Export-Import Bank credits were adopted after Chile failed to extradite those involved in the 1976 murder in Washington of Orlando Letelier, Allende's former ambassador to the United States.

As for Argentina, as a result of human rights violations following the overthrow of Isabel Perón, Congress adopted the Humphrey-Hawkins amendment barring U.S. arms aid or sales, and Carter emissaries, including the Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance himself, raised the human rights issue directly during visits to that country. Most striking was the change in relations with Brazil, where the earlier Kissinger policy of promoting a special U.S.-Brazilian relationship was replaced by increasingly distant relations, both because of the human rights issue (Brazil rejected U.S. military aid in reaction to the 1977 human rights report) and because of Carter Administration efforts to persuade the West German government not to supply Brazil with a nuclear reactor without full safeguards that it would be used only for peaceful purposes.

In the last two years of the Carter Administration there was a significant reduction in repression in the countries of the Southern Cone. In Chile, DINA, the intelligence organization which had become almost a state within a state, was reorganized, its successor organization given more limited powers of detention, and confirmed cases of disappearance ceased-although torture, several killings, and short-term detentions and expulsions continued. In Argentina, where the number of disappeared persons between 1976 and 1979 was estimated at 5,600 by the Argentine Human Rights Assembly, the 1980 State Department human rights report estimated the number of disappearances at between 12 and 28-although 900 political prisoners remained "at the disposition of the executive power" under legislation enacted before the 1976 coup. In Brazil since the mid-1970s, but especially with the promulgation of an amnesty in 1979, the process of political opening ("abertura") had meant that except for occasional confiscation of publications, and legal action against strikers, the human rights violations of the early 1970s had ceased. In Uruguay, while there were still 1,219 political "detainees," no disappearances had taken place since 1978, and in 1980 the military had made an unsuccessful attempt to impose a constitution which would have permitted a transition to civilian rule while retaining wide powers for the military.11

In these circumstances it was easy for the new Administration to argue for a shift in priorities, and to assert that public condemnations of governments with which the United States was allied militarily (through the Rio Treaty of Mutual Assistance) and politically (through the OAS) damaged the U.S. international position. Shortly after coming to power the Administration lifted the ban on Chilean access to Export-Import Bank loans and participation in joint naval exercises, and introduced legislation to remove the congressional prohibition on Argentine military aid. Similar legislation to lift the ban on Chilean military sales was proposed later in the year.

Despite denials by Administration spokesmen-Secretary of State Haig at his confirmation hearings said that "other than in the most exceptional circumstances" the United States should not provide aid to regimes that "consistently and in the harshest manner" violate human rights-there were many who suspected that the new approach meant abandonment of a concern with human rights except when they were violated by communist regimes. Their fears seemed to be confirmed by the nomination of Ernest Lefever as Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights. In July 1979, Lefever had testified to a congressional committee in opposition to human rights conditions on U.S. aid, and his Center for Ethics in Public Policy had been identified with a conservative position in international affairs. When his name was first mentioned in February, it elicited media criticism, but the debate over the new "tilt" in human rights was sharply intensified by the publication in April, both in book form and in a substantial excerpt published in The New Yorker, of a deeply moving account of the repression in Argentina, Prisoner without a Name, Cell without a Number, by the exiled Argentine publisher Jacobo Timerman. Along with horrifying details on torture and executions during his two years of detention on charges that were never substantiated by Argentine courts or the military themselves, Timerman's book denounced the Argentine military regime as anti-Semitic and totalitarian, comparing it to the early years of Nazism. Appearing on U.S. television in connection with the publication of the book, Timerman attributed his release in 1979 to the Carter human rights policy, which for the first time since the Marshall Plan had "captured the imagination of the world," and asserted that at one point the U.S. Embassy was the only source of legal advice for the families of those who had disappeared.

Conservative and neo-conservative writers attacked Timerman for not mentioning his financial connection with the late David Graiver, accused of acting as banker for the left-wing guerrillas, and for exaggerating the plight of Argentine Jews, but the debate focussed attention on human rights in Argentina and the U.S. role there.12 In May both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee conditioned the repeal of the ban on U.S. military sales or aid to Argentina on significant progress in the area of human rights as well as an accounting by the government for the "disappeared" persons-in spite of letters from the Secretary of State urging them not to do so. (The conditions were later softened to direct the President "to pay particular attention" to them.) When Lefever's nomination came before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for approval in late May he was subjected to intense questioning about his earlier views on human right issues as well as his Center's sources of financial support. Describing himself as a "compassionate realist," Lefever insisted that he had a long history of defense of human rights, although in a veiled reference to his predecessor's activism he did not see himself in a "Sir Galahad role going around the world on personal missions." Possibly the most damaging part of his testimony was his willingness to denounce the Soviet Union as "the gravest violator of human rights" in the contemporary world, while refusing to name any non-communist violators because that is "not my style" (New York Times, May 19, 1981). In early June, the Republican-controlled Committee voted 13-4 against his confirmation and he withdrew his name from consideration.

For a time it was reported that the Administration was considering abolishing the Human Rights Bureau, but this would have required congressional action. After a lengthy interval, Elliott Abrams, then Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations, was named to the post, and concurrently a State Department memorandum on human rights was published that called for application of the policy "evenhandedly" and on the basis of "a balancing of pertinent interests." It recognized that "A human rights policy means trouble, for it means hard choices which may adversely affect certain bilateral interests. At the very least we will have to speak honestly about our friends' human rights violations and justify any decision wherein other considerations (economic, military) are determinative." (New York Times, November 5, 1981.) The memorandum proposed the appointment of three deputies to the Assistant Secretary and an expansion of the Bureau's coordinating role with other agencies, including defense attachés in U.S. embassies.

Abrams, who described his obligations as Assistant Secretary as "to speak the truth" and "be effective," easily won confirmation and, if the memorandum is an indication of future policy, once again an attempt to carry out a substantial alteration in existing policy had been modified by the pressure of Congress and public opinion. Whether the announced policy would be followed up by genuine action in the area of human rights depended on the degree of commitment of the new Assistant Secretary and the bureaucratic politics of the Administration. In view of its earlier stance, human rights activists were not optimistic that the memorandum and new appointment marked a genuine shift in policy.

Despite the original intent of the change in human rights policy to remove what had become a persistent irritant to bilateral relations with the regimes of the Southern Cone, there was no immediate or striking improvement in relations with those regimes. In the case of Argentina there remained a difference in policy toward the Soviet Union; since the post-Afghanistan reduction of U.S. wheat sales, Argentina had become a principal supplier of wheat to the Soviet Union. In the case of Brazil as well, soybean sales to the U.S.S.R. soared and the regime seemed much less willing than in the early 1970s to play the role of principal U.S. partner in South America-if only because its own problems with finding secure energy sources meant that friendly relations with Iraq, Libya and Nigeria were more vital to its national interest as it conceived it. On the other principal subject of controversy between the United States and Brazil, nuclear proliferation, Vice President Bush announced on a visit to Brazil in October that Brazil would be given a special exemption to allow it to purchase enriched uranium for its U.S.-built reactor. There remained little prospect, however, of the reestablishment of the partnership between the United States and Brazil that Secretary Kissinger had begun to build in the last year of the Ford Administration.

In the case of Chile, there were also continuing obstacles to improved relations-mostly of the making of the Pinochet regime. A new Chilean constitution, approved in a hastily-called plebiscite in September 1980 and implemented in March 1981, not only gave Pinochet eight more years as president, but in its "transitional" provisions gave him power to censor all new publications, forbid public meetings, and expel or sentence to internal exile those who propagate subversive doctrines "or have the reputation of being activists for such doctrines, and those who carry out acts contrary to the interests of Chile or constitute a danger for internal peace." Two days after a visit by Mrs. Kirkpatrick in August in which she announced the U.S. intention to "normalize completely its relations with Chile," Pinochet used his constitutional powers to order the immediate expulsion of Jaime Castillo, the chairman of the Chilean Human Rights Commission and Minister of Justice under former President Eduardo Frei, as well as three other prominent former political leaders who had signed a declaration criticizing the government's imprisonment of the leaders of a newly-formed National Trade Union Coordinating Committee.

The expulsions, the continuing reports of the detention of regime opponents by police and the intelligence agency, and the refusal of Chilean courts to take action against those implicated in the Letelier case made it more difficult for the Administration to move to lift the sanctions imposed by Congress in 1976 against military aid to Chile. The House initially refused to do so, and in October when the Republican-controlled Senate voted to lift the ban, it accepted an amendment offered by Senator Percy, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, providing that no military aid, credits or support assistance were to be provided until the President had supplied Congress with a report certifying that Chile had made "significant progress" in human rights, neither "aided nor abetted" international terrorism, and was taking steps to bring to justice those involved in the Letelier murder. Percy also agreed with Senator Edward Kennedy's request to hold full Committee hearings on any such presidential certification. The objective of full normalization of relations with Chile still faced obstacles from the Congress and from the media (which published accounts of the importation of poison nerve gas from Chile by Letelier's murderers just as Congress was making final decisions on Chilean aid).

Neither the media nor the Reagan policymakers paid much attention to a more important process that was taking place in Latin America. In contrast to Central America, most South American countries-some by imposition and some by consent-had achieved a certain basic stability and self-confidence. Four of them-Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru-were functioning constitutional democracies, in the case of the last two after extended periods of military rule and despite a brief border war early in the year. Uruguay was beginning again with negotiations between the military and the civilian politicians on a return to constitutionalism, and Brazil was debating the modalities of state elections in the fall of 1982-although the rules the government laid down seemed to assure that the official government party would win. Besides scheduled votes in El Salvador and Guatemala under circumstances which severely limited the freedom of choice of the voters, elections were scheduled in 1982 for the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica and Brazil, while in Honduras the first civilian president in many years was to be inaugurated in January 1982. If, as many have argued, the United States has an interest in the establishment and maintenance of regimes in the Americas which share its values, this may be as significant a shift in Latin America as the radicalization of Central America and the independence of the mini-states of the Caribbean. Aside from a proposal at the December OAS meeting to establish a research institute on democracy, the policy initiatives of the new Administration did not seem to respond to these developments-possibly because of its belief that the previous Administration had placed too much emphasis upon them. It also paid no attention to the important economic changes in the region, especially the increasingly serious problem of the sizeable international debts that Brazil ($64 billion), Mexico ($48 billion, up $5 billion in 1981), Chile ($15 billion), and Costa Rica ($2.6 billion, in technical default) had incurred-preferring here as elsewhere to leave Latin America's economic problems to the private sector.


Has U.S. policy towards Latin America changed under the new Administration? Yes, but not as much as those who articulated it at the outset indicated that it would. It began with the assertion of a dramatic turnaround of policy but found that domestic constraints in Congress and public opinion, as well as its international relationships, forced it to adopt policies that were in many cases not very different in substance from those of the previous Administration.

In Central America, support for elections and reform and avoidance of identification with regimes that engage in systematic repression were prerequisites for the support of Congress and public opinion. Direct military intervention was exceedingly difficult because of the War Powers Act, and Congress still showed an assertiveness in foreign policy that limited presidential action. Human rights legislation remained on the books, including an Assistant Secretary of State with that special responsibility, as well as a congressional mandate for annual reports on the subject. Despite what looked like an ideological purge of some top career foreign service personnel, the permanent bureaucracy continued to exert an influence in favor of existing policies. Relationships with important Latin American allies such as Mexico and Venezuela required that policy be formulated in consultation with them, and their views taken into account. Before unilateral action could be undertaken, the impact of actions in Latin America upon U.S. worldwide responsibilities and relationships and on domestic opinion had to be considered.

Yet there were changes too. The new Administration continued to use aggressive rhetoric (often not matched by its subsequent actions) that emphasized the possibility of military solutions. Whether this was seen as a way to induce changes in the conduct of adversaries, or was meant to justify its conduct to its conservative constituency at home, was not clear. It was more interested in improving relations with Latin American military governments-and despite the talk of using "quiet diplomacy" to promote human rights seemed less willing to use any leverage the United States might have for the promotion of civil and personal liberties in friendly countries. This was a change of emphasis rather than a complete shift from moralism to militarism-but the message was delivered to Latin America that the earlier concern with democracy and liberty was being replaced by the mixture of traditional security considerations and militant anti-communism that Latin American intellectuals and democrats had criticized in U.S. policy for so many decades.

Given the increased Cuban presence in Central America and the political openings and decline in repression that were taking place in many parts of Latin America, some movement in this direction would probably have taken place under any Administration. What was disturbing about the new stance was that in its determination to demonstrate that it did in fact represent a different approach, the new Administration might in a crisis situation take actions that might harm U.S. interests in the world and lead to the opposition of most of the hemisphere and the alienation of its European allies, who have become increasingly involved in Latin America over the past decade. Cuba remained an obsession, and from the time just before Ronald Reagan's inauguration when Castro attacked him as "fascist," "genocidal," and "covered with blood," it was clear that relations with that country were likely to deteriorate. In addition the flow of Cuban arms to Nicaragua meant that there was continuing pressure within the Administration for forceful action against that country.

So far this has not happened-both because of the arguments of the domestic and foreign opponents against a policy based exclusively on force and on "the hegemonic presumption,"13 and because of the constraints built into the American system of government. And this is as the Founding Fathers, who called for "energy in the executive" especially in the area of foreign affairs, but also established a system of checks and balances, intended it to be.


The divergent approaches that the Carter and Reagan Administrations have taken to Latin America suggest a number of continuing questions about U.S. policy in the Western hemisphere.

1. Should policy continue to be conducted as if it were a morality play-within one case Soviet expansionism, and in the other repressive governments, as the devils? Is it not possible to take a more pragmatic view of U.S. interests in the area?

2. As part of such a view, are not U.S. interests clearly greater in some parts of Latin America than in others? Crises or not, is it not time to recognize that in Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America, a special set of factors-notably geographic proximity and links of economics, energy and migration-argue for continuing U.S. concern for their defense from external subversion, and for the promotion of social justice, democracy and development?

3. What are the most appropriate means to achieve those goals-particularly when they are in tension or conflict with one another? Are cutoffs in military aid an effective or useful way to achieve justice and freedom or simply a way of satisfying our consciences? Is a prohibition of military sales an appropriate way to influence the conduct of other nations when they can acquire what they need from other countries allied with us-notably France and Israel? How useful are cutoffs in economic assistance if they lead to greater suffering for the poor in the countries involved?

4. How can the United States best adjust to the development of divergent interests and relationships on the part of the countries of Latin America-in particular with Europe and Japan?

5. Why, except for a short period under the Alliance for Progress 20 years ago, have we not applied the policy recommendation made by Milton Eisenhower in the late 1950s-a handshake for the dictators, whether of the Right or Left, and an abrazo for the democratic governments?

Perhaps most important: the debate on Latin American policy reflects a larger philosophical disagreement between those who regard force and national security as the central elements in international relations and those who believe that, at least in a democracy seeking to secure international and domestic support for its policies, the values and ideals of the United States must have an important role in the conduct of foreign policy. Is it not time to recognize that in practice neither view is sufficient in itself and that there are powerful constraints limiting any attempt to replace one conception with the other?

1 For other examples of attacks on Carter Administration policies by Reagan campaign advisers on Latin America, see the articles by Roger Fontaine et al. and by Pedro San Juan in The Washington Quarterly, Autumn 1980. These attacks also mention the Brzezinski book (Between Two Ages, New York: Viking, 1970), the Linowitz reports (published as The Americas in a Changing World, New York: Quadrangle, 1975, and The United States and Latin America: Next Steps, New York: Center for Inter American Relations, 1976), and the study by the Institute for Policy Studies' Working Group on Latin America, The Southern Connection.

2 The White Paper seems to have been put together hastily, and it was subsequently subjected to critical scrutiny by The Wall Street Journal (June 8, 1981) and The Washington Post (June 9, 1981). They noted that the Spanish documents were sometimes inaccurately translated and summarized and that the figures as to the amounts of arms (800 tons committed, and 200 tons actually shipped to El Salvador) were exaggerated estimates not supported by the documentation. In addition, close scrutiny of the published documents showed an initial reluctance by the Soviet Union to support the guerrillas, as well as complaints in July 1980 on the Salvadorans' part of the lack of enthusiasm for their cause by the Nicaraguans, who were bent on protecting their own revolution. Nevertheless no one has denied that the trip was made, or that substantial arms of American manufacture traceable by serial number to Vietnam and Ethiopia did suddenly appear in, or en route to, El Salvador in late 1980. Nicaraguan and Cuban government officials have also admitted privately to third country representatives that such arms shipments were made. See U.S. Department of State, Response to Stories about Special Report No. 80, June 17, 1981. A follow-up State Department study, El Salvador: The Search for Peace, was published in September 1981. For evaluations of U.S. policy from a variety of points of view, see "Struggle in Central America," Foreign Policy, Summer 1981, and Richard E. Feinberg, "Central America: No Easy Answers," Foreign Affairs, Summer 1981.

3 For estimates by members of Congress on the strong constituent opposition to military aid to El Salvador, see The New York Times, March 26, 1981. The House subcommittee vote in March on shifting $5 million to Salvadoran military assistance was 8-7.

4 In the midst of the January final offensive, Bishop Rivera y Damas drew on Catholic moral teaching on the just war to set forth the four requirements for insurrection-serious abuse of political power, the exhaustion of peaceful alternatives, a positive balance between the evils of the insurrection and the good that could result, and the likelihood of success. Only the first condition, he said, was met in the current situation-thus imposing a moral obligation to continue to search for a peaceful solution. See Kerry Ptacek, The Catholic Church in El Salvador, Washington: The Institute on Religion and Democracy, 1981, p. 5.

5 Carter defenders argue that his Administration was more willing to use aid as leverage to induce reform. See, for example, Richard E. Feinberg's essay on the Carter policy of "Creative Evolutionism" in Richard E. Feinberg (ed.), Central America: International Dimensions of the Crisis, New York: Holmes and Meier (forthcoming).

6 The Pol Pot comparison had been used by Jeane Kirkpatrick in the January 1981 article discussed above. On the Zimbabwe solution, see William LeoGrande, "A Splendid Little War," International Security, Summer 1981. For a discussion of the possibilities of international observer teams for the March election, see Robert Leiken, Prepared Statement, Subcommittee on Inter-American Affairs, House Foreign Affairs Committee, September 24, 1981, p. 13.

7 U.S. Agency for International Development, Nicaraguan Desk, Washington, D.C. It was reported that Nicaragua's campaign to secure foreign wheat was so successful that it sold surplus wheat to Costa Rica later in the year.

8 Under the War Powers Act of 1973, such actions would require congressional authorization or a notification by the President to the Congress of an emergency involving a threat to American security. In the latter case the Congress by concurrent resolution can require the troops to be withdrawn. The troops must be withdrawn within 60 days unless Congress specifically authorizes their continuing presence.

9 "Cuba's Renewed Support for Violence in Latin America," Special Report No. 90, Washington: Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs, December 14, 1981. The Enders statement has been published as "Strategic Situation in Central America and the Caribbean," Current Policy No. 352, Washington: Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs, December 14, 1981.

11 Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (Report submitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee), February 2, 1981, Washington: GPO, 1981, passim.

12 See, for example, Irving Kristol, "The Timerman Affair," The Wall Street Journal, May 29, 1981, and Mark Falcoff, "The Timerman Case," Commentary, July 1981.



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  • Paul E. Sigmund is Professor of Politics and Director of the Latin American Studies Program at Princeton University. His most recent books are The Overthrow of Allende and the Politics of Chile, 1964-1976 and Multinationals in Latin America: The Politics of Nationalization.
  • More By Paul E. Sigmund