21. Memorandum From Viron P. Vaky of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1 2

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  • Random Thoughts on Latin America—The View from a New Year’s Day “Morning After”

“One of the more conspicuous hypocrisies of the American way in foreign policy is our combination of vocal solicitude about the inter-American system with visceral indifference to the Latin American ordeal. On ceremonial occasions, our leaders talk lavishly and righteously about hemisphere solidarity...But one cannot resist the impression—certainly Latin Americans don’t—that deep down most North Americans do not give a damn about Latin America.

—Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., “The Lowering Hemisphere”, The Atlantic, January, 1970

I posit the following propositions with respect to US policy toward the Hemisphere.

1. We constructed and articulated a conceptual framework for Latin American policy which was (I believe) realistic and reasonable—even historic. But most of our government does not believe or accept it, or does not understand it; and we are in danger of betraying it.

2. To carry out the policy concepts as envisaged requires special effort, special concern, some policies that are politically difficult domestically, and money. We cannot carry it out with “tokenism”, and the policy never contemplated that we could.

3. Even in the best of circumstances our relations are in for stormy times:

  • —The problems of development and modernization are too intractable to permit easy or quick progress;
  • —The logic of the region’s dynamics means that its development can only occur at the expense of US control and possibly influence; within the broad interdependence that exists, there are divergent interests and different perceptions of reality.

We are so big and powerful, so physically close, and we have so many political and economic ties and psychological associations that we will always have an impact on and a relationship with these countries. The question is what kind. As they mature as societies and nations, they generally perceive things differently than we do, and they are not disposed to submit their concept of things to our prescriptions. And even if we had the wisdom to do so, we cannot impose them—they would not let us and we do not have the resources or will to intervene as consistently as would be required to do so. The nationalism of the moment will unquestionably lead to further frictions—new attacks on specific interests, US investments, charges of CIA involvement and pulling Uncle Sam’s beard. We are too omnipresent to be anything but a tempting target and scapegoat for their problems.

Yet these nations need external assistance and want our technical/financial help and even security umbrella. In this dilemma they will judge the value of maintaining a cooperative relationship with us in terms of how they see their interests served. If we react heavy handedly, if we cannot help them with trade opportunities, aid or sympathetic (to them) understanding—if we insist our problems and requirements have priority—they will seek to offset us rather than work with us. We probably cannot avoid some trend toward “neutralism”, perhaps some effort to compensate for dependence on us with ties with Europe or the Soviets. Yet the logic of the situation is that there is a basic underlying complementarity among us, and if we can find a way of relating to each other that can accommodate nationalism and diversity in national behavior, we can re-establish a constructive community relationship based on hard-headed mutual interests, just as we did with Mexico. If we do not, the drive to “independence” will be Nasserist, violently anti-US and negative to our broader interests.

The policy we outlined in the NSC and the President’s speech sought to operate from this perception of the realities in the situation. It postulated the following:

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  • —There is good reason to conceive of the Western Hemisphere in a special way and to treat it specially—because of history, the concrete developments and associations that have occurred, the special security and conventional economic interests that bind us, the negative wrench it would give to our position and power were we to reject it, the special nature of the area itself (“the one part of the Western world that is underdeveloped, and the one part of the underdeveloped world that is Western”.)
  • —A style of paternalism, an assumption by us of responsibility for their internal development would not be productive in the 70’s.
  • —A new style that invited them to assume responsibility, that encouraged and supported their leads and that in effect was one of a senior partner rather than a paterfamilias was required; also required were new instruments which were quicker and more effective, especially multilateral instruments.
  • —Development, social and economic problems, modernization profound change are the realities with which Latin America—and we—have to deal. No partnership or any other relationship makes sense except in terms of a better way to relate to these phenomena and the aspirations they engender.
  • —We should commit ourselves to assist their development, by aid, trade and technical assistance.
  • —Thus, far from disengagement, our policy was one of finding a more effective way of engaging with them in the seventies—in the terms of the substance of things that are relevant to them.

But as a government we have not yet demonstrated that we believe in the “special relationship”. We tend to think of it more as a slogan than as a concept. Yet its value is as a concept; as a slogan it is ineffective, even bad. The Latins don’t like it because they think it means sphere of influence; many US officials don’t like it because they think the same thing or think it unwarranted. The quote at the beginning of this memo is also very true. Most people have an unconscious perception of Latin Americans as “lesser breeds”; as long as that is our visceral reflex we cannot have a satisfactory relationship in this day and [Page 4] age. The idea of a special relationship as special concern is sometimes painful to implement. And so we usually don’t. The “special relationship” usually stops where it should start—the real meat and potatoes of our relations, e.g.,—meat, oil, textiles; it cannot hold a match to base-rights as a reason for giving aid and “goodies”. Above all, we should stop interpreting the “special relationship”—and our entire stance vis a vis Latin America—as merely symbolic; as requiring only nice words or a token. You recently said that you had learned that symbolism was more important to the Latins than substance. I don’t think this is right. Symbolism and form are important because Latins are formalistic and personalistic; but it is sheer delusion to think that the token or the symbol can substitute for real substance. The Latins are also shrewd and they want—and need—the “meat and potatoes.”

You have said you want bold and dramatic policies. But the truth of the matter is that the problems the Latins insist on dealing with us about are the undramatic things—trade and loans. More importantly, we can do very little bold, or basically “trend-changing”, without significant resources. You have often cited Rockefeller’s Report correctly as having caught people’s imagination as bold and decisive. But the reason it seems dramatic is precisely because it implies commitment of substantially increased inputs of resources and efforts.

The areas of development, trade and economics comprise the major part of our total relationship. The soundness and effectiveness of our policies in these areas—and therefore of our influence—are determined by the level of resources. We cannot, in short, do anything in this area if we are not willing to seek the resources. There are gross upper limits of course to what one can expect the Congress to appropriate by way of funds. But within those limits how hard the President fights for money determines how much he gets—he can optimize the level. Similarly in trade, there is an inherent conflict between the US foreign policy interest and the interests of domestic groups. There are practical limits to how much Congress will do or how far the President can ignore domestic political imperatives. But how hard he is willing to fight can help determine where those limits are, and, within them, how much he can do.

An effective policy for Latin America requires that:

1. The President be willing to:

  • —fight for money;
  • —fight for special treatment;
  • —take on some domestic interests, within reason;
  • —cultivate a sympathy and understanding, and convincing interest, in the hemisphere. (What the Governor is always citing FDR for.)

2. The bureaucracy must move, overcome inertia and the eternal technical squabbling. I know it is too much to expect it to adopt a new policy line on its own, but once the President has committed the executive bureaucracy to a concept it ought to be able to carry it out. However, the spark for that day to day implementation must come from the high decision level parts of the operating agencies. If the White House tries to direct or lead in the details too much or too often we only create bureaucratic feuds and resentments. And it is inefficient. Therefore, personal leadership in the bureaucracy is important.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 798, Country Files, Latin America, Latin America General, Volume III, November 1969–May 1970. Confidential. Sent for information. Kissinger wrote on the top of the memorandum, “Excellent paper.” At the end of the memorandum, Kissinger wrote, “All right, how do we get it?”
  2. Vaky urged Kissinger to allocate more resources to Latin America, give it special treatment, advocate pro-Latin American policies even if they conflicted with U.S. domestic interests, and cultivate sympathy and understanding toward the region.