82. Briefing Memorandum From the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Lord) to Secretary of State Kissinger1

Latin America: A Deceptive Calm?

This has been a good year in our relations with Latin America. Your two trips2—which included stops in no less than 10 countries—revealed impressive reservoirs of warmth and potential for cooperation. Above all, they confirmed your sense and ours that most problems in this hemisphere can be solved to mutual advantage.

The problems are many, however. And new issues arise constantly, sometimes endangering earlier progress. This memorandum assesses the general state of relations on the eve of your various encounters with Latin American officials and Foreign Ministers this fall.

The US in Ascendance

Recent events suggest that US prestige is again rising in Latin America:

—the Santiago OASGA3 went very well for us;

—official relations with major countries have improved noticeably; and

—except for parts of the Caribbean, anti-American posturings—and with them the Cubans—seem to have lost most of their appeal.

These developments reflect a basic trend toward economic and political conservatism. Latin Americans are increasingly sensitive to the need for good relations with the United States.

—The emergence of a new economic climate has been reported by sources as diverse as Business Week (which published a Special Report August 9 recounting growing opportunities for US firms in Latin America) and Sam Lewis and Charles Frank4 (who found a growing mood of pragmatism and a desire to play down ideology—particularly in contrast to the 1974 policy planning talks).

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—Politically, governmental changes in Argentina and Peru have accentuated a general swing to the right. The failure of the left has reduced the appeal of radical solutions and enhanced predispositions to cooperate with the United States.

The Role of Foreign Policy

This changed environment is due fundamentally to the renewed vigor of the US economy and to Latin America’s inability to find acceptable substitutes for US enterprise and technology either domestically or from third parties. But our policies have helped. We have shown new flexibility toward Latin America recently on three levels:

—Bilaterally, we have made special efforts to reach mutual accommodations without attempting to dictate the domestic policies of the countries concerned. Our commitment to conciliation has been demonstrated by our acceptance of the legitimacy of Latin America’s governments—even in the face of challenges to US interests that in the past might have provoked confrontation or even direct intervention. Our pragmatism in dealing with Venezuela’s iron and oil nationalizations and our efforts to resolve the Marcona expropriation in Peru have demonstrated that investment disputes need not entail irreconcilable conflicts. These policies have contributed decisively to more favorable Latin American attitudes toward private investment and to a lessening of quasi-Marxist ideological preoccupations.

—Regionally, we have reaffirmed our commitment to the OAS, and to efforts to make it more responsive to Latin American concerns. In joining a majority move to end mandatory OAS sanctions against Cuba, we did more than remove a source of multilateral tension and shift attention to Cuba’s own behavior as the reason for its continuing isolation. We also made clear our interest in the survival of the OAS and the Rio Treaty5 as instruments of inter-American cooperation. In Santiago, you supported the contributions of the OAS to the protection of human rights and to regional peace, and committed us to a Special General Assembly next year on cooperation for development.

—Globally, we have shown growing awareness of North-South concerns. Discussions of commodities, trade, debt and technology in the UN, UNCTAD and CIEC have had positive reverberations on bilateral relations and on the elaboration of possible regional initiatives through the OAS, ECLA and the IDB.

This record is based on gradual case-by-case progress, with no sweeping new programs or attempts to force countries into a single mold. Though inherently difficult to articulate in inspiring terms, such [Page 461] a pattern of pragmatic adjustment is congruent both with our limitations and Latin America’s. Moreover, if we can sustain this approach and avoid major mistakes for a few more years, Latin America’s growth may be sufficient to facilitate more constructive and balanced relations in the future.

Problem Areas

Some observers believe, however, that we may be on the verge of a new period of recriminations and mutual alienation. Their chief fear is that the implacable campaign now underway in South America to eradicate terrorism will provoke equally rigid American reactions in defense of human rights. The powerful emotions and frustrations thus unleashed on both sides, they argue, will inexorably destroy the gains of the past year and create fresh obstacles to cooperation for years to come.

Latin American conditions have always tended to elicit cataclysmic visions—and agonized responses—from American observers. Nonetheless, three problem areas seem particularly significant:

—limitations in our capacity to muster the resources to take advantage of our increased opportunities for cooperation;

—weaknesses in Latin America’s capacity to respond constructively; and

—the disruptive potential of the human rights issue.

Of the three, the human rights issue is the most delicate, for it could bring out the worst aspects of our other difficulties.

Our limitations are substantial. Domestic political and economic conditions severely constrain our flexibility on investment disputes and access to markets. We have made—and can continue to make—piecemeal progress. Executive branch efforts have softened potential conflicts over trade with Brazil and Colombia, and investments with Venezuela and Peru. But the underlying problems remain, and increasingly affect our relationships even with Mexico. We cannot get Congress to make Venezuela and Ecuador eligible for GSP—let alone meet the desires of those Latin Americans who seek new regional trade preferences. Nor have we been responsive to advocates of the development of assistance, trading, and investment relations free from the threat of sanctions or countervailing actions.

Even if we could, it would probably be unwise to support the utopian preconceptions behind the legalisms of “collective economic security”, Echeverria’s Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States,6 or [Page 462] the UNCTAD Code of Conduct for Technology Transfer. But the difficulties we have had in developing your own insights on science and technology suggest a deeper lack of practical flexibility in implementing even moderate and pragmatic initiatives for coping with the economics of interdependence. Meanwhile, our traditional bilateral economic and military assistance programs are increasingly meager and irrelevant to Latin American needs.

Latin America’s weaknesses are just as apparent. Most hemisphere governments are so beset with immediate domestic problems that few real energies remain for anything else. Despite continuing institutional and economic growth, elite disorganization and popular pressures have created an underlying crisis of legitimacy and authority—in apparently stable countries like Mexico as well as in more obviously troubled countries such as Argentina, Uruguay and now Peru. The great dilemmas—migration and population growth, income maldistribution, unfavorable terms of trade and investment—regularly take a back seat to mundane emergencies over public services, gasoline prices and obtaining the (mostly private) loans to meet growing import bills.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the region’s foreign affairs—always ambiguous in recent years—seem more difficult to categorize than ever. Everyone favors economic integration, but the Andean Pact7 falters. SELA is virtually still-born, leading everyone to agree that the OAS must survive, but no one is sure how to reform it. Sub-regional tensions—over the future of the Caribbean and of Cuba’s role in it, over Bolivia’s outlet to the sea or Belize’s independence, between military governments and the few persisting democracies—fester, but never seem to produce a major crisis. Even Puerto Rico is becoming a long-term question mark.

Extra-hemispheric relationships are similarly in flux. The EEC discriminates economically—but, like Japan, is an increasingly important trading partner. Seen up close, other parts of the Third World seem backward—but not entirely impotent as allies. The Soviet Union remains a source of danger—but offers occasional benefits. Only China seems rather absent.

The one important generalization about the region’s foreign affairs, then, is the one made earlier: most of its governments actively desire improved relations with the United States. And their new pragmatism may actually test our capacity for responsiveness more than did their previous unmeetable demands. Despite the difficulties, therefore, there is reason for optimism. The real short-term danger points are only two: Panama and human rights. Little need be said about the Canal [Page 463] question: a failure to begin to conclude a new treaty relatively soon could severely damage inter-American relations. Human rights may be even less controllable.

The Human Rights Challenge

The tendency in several South American countries to fight terror with terror has led to a rash of killings, disappearances, and similar acts against “subversives”. Some of these acts are provoked by genuine threats, some are not. Some are officially sanctioned, some not. The distinctions are typically difficult. It is clear, however, that most of those targetted and hit are not terrorists.

In Argentina, the new storm center, a conservative military government is attempting to reestablish order after a period of uncontrolled proliferation of terrorist and counter-terrorist armies. International acceptance of the legitimacy of its efforts has been severely damaged by reports of indiscriminate “counter-terrorist operations”, some of which have been carried out with anti-Semitic fury by defiant local Nazis, apparently with police connections and even some official tolerance.

The resulting climate of insecurity and outrage—more abuses are to come—could wreak havoc on attempts to consolidate improved relations, not just with Argentina, but throughout Latin America. “Operation Condor”, the semi-secret, officially coordinated counter-terrorism effort involves five countries in addition to Argentina: Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, and, significantly, Brazil. Because the governments concerned are all military-dominated and hence by definition illegitimate in some eyes, the human rights issue is stimulating a quasi-ideological reaction against “reactionary military dictatorships” and even against Latin America as a whole.

The result is that we are and will continue to be faced with a resurgence of paternalism and anti-militarism in American attitudes toward Latin America, combined with neo-isolationist anger at Latin America’s failure to follow a course more compatible with American ideals. In fact, the combined force of cultural attitudes, Congressional pressures, and bureaucratic habits are already pushing us toward general condemnations and denials of multilateral as well as bilateral assistance. The harbinger is clearly present in the Harkin Amendment, which requires us to vote against IDB loans to countries where there is a “consistent pattern of gross violations” of a long list of human rights.8 Furthermore, the only exception allowable under Harkin, that “such assistance directly benefit the needy”, reveals assumptions about the [Page 464] nature of Latin America and of politics in general that will rarely prove congruent with the requirements of relations with the increasingly complex societies and governments to our South.

Does it Matter?

Would even a worst-case scenario—in which some if not most Latin American countries wound up in defiant confrontation with the international community—make any measurable difference to the United States?

The answer, unfortunately, is yes. If South America were to become isolated, it would be heavily at our expense, morally and politically. The swing of the pendulum to the political right in Latin America—even the counter-terrorism campaigns in the Southern Cone—are being justified partly in the name of the West in general, and of the United States in particular. The failures that could lead to international opprobrium—and internal radicalization—would be listed—however unfairly—as our failures. And in the meantime, other powers with fewer inhibitions would position themselves to advantage. The Soviet Union has kept a low profile in Latin America recently, but its willingness to heavily subsidize military sales to Peru demonstrates its capacity to take advantage of our inflexibilities.

Furthermore, because we and the Latin Americans both stand to lose a great deal economically as well as politically, alienated interdependence is ultimately more likely than complete isolation. US direct investment is substantial. The exposure of commercial banks is even greater. Private efforts to salvage these economic interests would predictably outlast public patience, thereby just as predictably stimulating political controversies of the kind that already dog us with South Africa.

There is a more immediate problem as well: the human rights issue threatens to subject most if not all our bilateral and multilateral relations to unenforceable standards. We have been through this before—on both economic and military assistance. The pattern is now being repeated on Human Rights. Our inability to explain or control Latin American conditions leads first to criticism of the executive, then to Congressional restrictions, and finally to an apparent US unwillingness to cooperate.

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the stakes are sufficient to warrant concern, and that some sort of continuing engagement is inevitable.

What Can we Do About It?

To argue that our relationships with Latin America are too manifold and intimate to escape is of course nothing new. It is in many ways [Page 465] what you have yourself been arguing for three years: we need new ways to manage our interdependence, in this hemisphere as elsewhere. And the agenda is so vast that no single problem should be allowed to dominate relations, just as no single policy formula can encompass the full range of relations between the US and the varied societies of Latin America.

The limits on our flexibility are increasingly clear, however. There is precious little constituency in Congress for political realism towards Latin America. Support for even modest military programs has been dwindling steadily. And unless conditions improve noticeably in Argentina and Chile, nothing we can say will turn Congress around on human rights. Chile is not Iran or Korea—witness the unusual ban on even commercial arms sales.

This paper cannot attempt to lay out a detailed strategy on the human rights issue. But the basic requirement seems clear. Faced with the intractable realities of human rights, we have little choice but to develop forms of engagement that tolerate both cooperation and criticism. At Tlatelolco, faced with Latin American complaints about “US economic sanctions”, you responded that such measures could be overcome only through development of more cooperative and mutually responsive relations: new “rules of the game”.9 The New Dialogue demonstrated the difficulty of arriving at abstract rules.10 But the course of our relations since then also suggests that accommodations can frequently be worked out in practice. To do so we will need to demonstrate:

—to the American public and Congress, that the US government considers human rights one of several interests we seek to promote with balance and vision—but that it would be self-defeating to allow it to override all others; and

—to Latin America, that our commitments are practical and not abstract, that they involve cooperation as well as preaching.

Your two Latin American trips this year have set forth the elements of such a policy—of cooperation for development as well as for security, to advance human rights as well as economic progress. To lessen the disruptive impact of the growing storm over human rights, we will need to articulate this approach more fully in all of its dimensions. By showing sympathy for the victims and giving practical support to institutions that promote human dignity and the rule of law, we [Page 466] can make clear our rejection of acts contrary to civilized values. By expanding trade and increasing the flow of technology and people—and working pragmatically to resolve the problems they create—we can increase mutually profitable cooperation and perhaps even alleviate some of the insecurities and poverty that contribute to abuses. We can do little more—and should probably do no less.

Two and a half years ago, on the eve of Tlatelolco, Mexican Foreign Minister Rabasa urged that the most important single thing you could do would be to declare publicly that there would be “No More Santo Domingos”. Today, after new “revelations” about Chile (and the CIA in general), some Latin Americans still talk about US “destabilization” plots. But those who take such talk seriously are probably fewer today than at any time since the early 1950’s. We have in fact succeeded in demonstrating our commitment to mutual accommodation rather than unilateral intervention.

It was thus not accidental that human rights could be discussed constructively at the OASGA. Because we had quieted fears of intervention, we could afford to make our views on human rights known. We can continue to do so, so long as we distinguish among conditions, countries and policy instruments, using more discrimination, specificity and perhaps even compassion than either we or Congress have routinely shown in the past.

The executive, not Congress, should set policy on human rights. Latin American governments should be made aware that we do not condone certain practices even if we cannot force their complete control or elimination. And Congress should be reminded that we have important national interests to promote in addition to human rights, that attempts to enforce explicit standards on other societies frequently have undesirable side effects, even that the visa, immigration and refugee policies Congress largely controls sometimes set a poor example of openness and respect for political rights. The watchwords are similar for both audiences: cooperation, not imposition or withdrawal; discrimination, not frustrated overreaction.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Policy Planning Council (S/PC), Policy Planning Staff (S/P), Director’s Files (Winston Lord) 1969–77, Lot 77D112, Box 361, SEPT 1–15 1976. Confidential. Drafted by Luigi Einaudi (S/P) on August 31.
  2. Kissinger’s first 1976 trip to Latin America, February 16–24, took him to Venezuela, Peru, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Guatemala. His February 17 speech in Macuto, Venezuela, in which he summarized the state of U.S.-Latin American relations, is printed in Department of State Bulletin, March 15, 1976, pp. 313–321. On his next visit, June 6–13, Kissinger made stops in the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Chile, and Mexico.
  3. Held June 7–9.
  4. Member of the Policy Planning Staff, Department of State.
  5. See footnote 10, Document 28.
  6. See footnote 5, Document 17. The Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly (Resolution 3281 (XXIX)), December 12, 1974. For the text of the Charter, see Yearbook of the United Nations, 1974, pp. 403–407.
  7. See footnote 5, Document 63. The Andean Pact expanded its membership with the addition of Venezuela in 1973, but Chile withdrew as a member state in 1976.
  8. The 1975 Harkin amendment, sponsored by Representative Tom Harkin (D–Iowa), revised the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.
  9. In Kissinger’s February 21, 1974, address to the Tlatelolco Conference of Latin American Foreign Ministers in Mexico City (see Document 28), heelaborated on his idea of a “New Dialogue” between the United States and Latin America, which he first put forward in 1973 (see footnote 1, Document 18).
  10. See Document 63.