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88. Memorandum From Jessica Tuchman of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • PL–480 and Human Rights
  • The Story Behind the Washington Post Story2

As you know, PL-480 consists primarily of two separate programs—Title I and Title II. Under Title II, food grants are made through private agencies, through the UN/FAO and other multilateral programs, and through friendly governments to help the needy for emergency/disaster relief and other purposes (maternal/child health, school feeding, etc.). Because of the nature of these programs, the Interagency Group decided that no human rights review of recipient countries was necessary.

Title I (which is the subject of the article) is a very different story. Title I was originally conceived as a means of disposing of US farm surplus. It primarily provides budget and balance-of-payments support to recipient governments, indirectly subsidizes American farmers, and sometimes promotes the development of free markets in recipient countries. It has often been abused in the past and used for blatantly political foreign policy purposes. For example, in 1975, the government proposed using 85 percent of the Latin American allotment for Chile, and in 1976 proposed that Chile get 93 percent—despite the fact that Chile has the fifth highest per capita income in Latin America, and is not on the UN’s MSA list. Thus there is a valid question of to what extent Title I loans should be subject to a review of the human rights practices of the recipient. This concern was seconded and in fact supervened by the enactment of Harkin language in the FY ’78 Title I legislation. Like all the other Harkin amendments, this stipulates that no Title I support can go to a country which engages in a “consistent and gross pattern of human rights violations”unless the food itself, or the proceeds from the sale of the food, directly benefit the needy people of that country.3

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Thus the preliminary FY ’78 allotments (which are informally presented to Congress at the beginning of each fiscal year), had to be reviewed to test their consistency to the new legislative directives, as well as to Administration policy. The review took some time since a number of difficult questions had to be answered including:

—Should any Title I assistance be provided to a country which is judged to be a gross and consistent violator of human rights?

—Should Title I assistance be diverted away from gross and consistent violators or lesser violators and toward those nations which make progress or have good human rights records?

—How do we avoid creating a “consistent and gross violator” hit list?

—Should all Title I agreements, or just agreements with consistent and gross violators, be amended to require host governments to report on the use of Title I food or proceeds; or, alternatively, should some other method be sought to guarantee the human rights provisions of Title I legislation are met?

In order to avoid the designation of any country as a consistent and gross violator, it was decided (essentially by Christopher) to review Title I allotments for all countries and to require “troublesome” countries (as defined by the human rights working group) to provide additional reporting showing that the aid is indeed reaching the needy. 4

In order to avoid a possible leak (there have been many from the Christopher group) the list of those countries being considered as troublesome was not presented to the interagency group. Instead, consultations were to be held with the interested parties. Apparently State got so hung up in internal debate on the list, that they never got around to consulting NSC. I have spoken to Oxman about this and will talk to Schneider also. It appears to have been an honest mistake made under severe time pressures.5

As to the current state of things, instructions have been issued to 4 of the 29 Title I countries to begin negotiating the FY ’78 Title I Agreements. All four of these—Korea, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Guinea—are considered of concern on human rights grounds, and will therefore be required to provide the new reporting showing that the aid benefits [Page 300]the needy. An additional 9 countries are on the troublesome list—Philippines, Haiti, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Zaire, Zambia, and perhaps Senegal.

It should be noted that most of the delay this year in beginning these negotiations was not due to the human rights review per se, but to other technical problems with the Agreements (questions about the repayment terms, etc.). This is demonstrated by the fact that the agreements for the 16 non-troublesome countries have not yet been sent out. Also, the Interagency meeting on this subject was originally scheduled for September 28, and was put off at Agriculture’s request—not State’s. Even if there had been a delay, I think it would be not unexpected considering that there is a new policy, a new set of concerns and new legislative requirements.


The message of this story—that human rights concerns have held up food for starving people—is false. Most (though not all) of the delay has been due to unrelated technical problems. Most of the concern comes from Congressmen who are not concerned about starving people, but about growing surpluses driving down farmers’ prices in their districts.

The decisions that have been made as to how to implement the new Congressional requirements are, I believe, basically sound. However, there may be some objections here to the inclusion of particular countries on the list. I will circulate the names to the relevant NSC staff.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 49, PL 480: 11/77–1/80. Confidential. Sent for information. A copy was sent to Schecter.
  2. Reference is to Dan Morgan, “U.S. Holds Back Food Aid in Rights Review,” The Washington Post, November 22, 1977, pp. A–1 and A–7.
  3. Brzezinski placed a parallel line next to the portion of this paragraph that begins with the words “of Harkin language” and ends with the words “of that country.”
  4. See Document 86.
  5. Brzezinski underlined the word “State” and the fragment “to consulting,” added three parallel lines next to the portion of the paragraph that begins with “debate on the list” and ends with “severe time pressures,” and wrote: “Please let me know if this has been ironed out—We should be involved. Check with pertinent NSC staff. ZB.” Tuchman sent an action memorandum to Armacost, Pastor, Richardson, and Thornton on November 23, summarizing her November 22 memorandum to Brzezinski and requesting that they inform her of any opposition to the countries in their portfolios appearing on the “troublesome” countries list. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Global Issues—Mathews Subject File, Box 10, Human Rights: Public Law 480, 11–12/77)