Structure and Scope of the Foreign Relations Series

This volume is part of a subseries of volumes of the Foreign Relations series that documents the most important issues in the foreign policy of the administration of Jimmy Carter. The subseries will present a documentary record of major foreign policy decisions and actions of President Carter’s administration. This volume documents the policies of the administration toward Central America.

Focus of Research and Principles of Selection for Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XV

The purpose of this volume is to document the foreign policy of the Carter administration toward Central America. The six compilations included in the volume illustrate the formulation of U.S. policy toward the Central American region as a whole and U.S. bilateral relations with six countries: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Documentation on Belize and Guatemala has been combined into one compilation, which covers bilateral relations and the negotiations on the future independence of Belize from the United Kingdom, which was finalized in September 1981. A compilation on regional policies contains documents applicable to multiple Central American countries and regional approaches planned and undertaken by the Carter administration. The compilations are ordered to replicate, as close as possible, the chronology of the policies crafted during Carter’s presidential term.

The Carter administration’s preferred policy toward Latin America—stressing human rights and non-interventionism—was severely tested by events in Central America. Guatemala’s territorial claims on Belize and its poor human rights record created challenges and limitations to U.S. efforts to settle a secure basis for Belize’s independence. In Nicaragua, the January 1978 assassination of Nicaraguan journalist Pedro Chamorro helped to catalyze a civil war between Nicaraguan President Anastasio Debayle Somoza’s National Guard and Sandinista National Liberation Front guerrillas. The Carter administration criticized Somoza, a close U.S. ally prior to the Carter presidency, for human rights violations and the lack of an open political process in the country. The United States undertook efforts to mediate a moderate political solution and minimize bloodshed from October 1978 to July 1979, when the Sandinistas assumed power. Thereafter, the Carter administration took pains to sway the revolutionary Government of [Page X] National Reconstruction toward moderate economic and political policies.

Bilateral relations with Costa Rica were dominated by the tumult produced by the Nicaraguan revolution, particularly due to Costa Rica’s territorial proximity to Nicaragua, and then by the political instability in El Salvador. Costa Rica also worked with the Carter administration in responding to a refugee crisis in Cuba. In Honduras, the United States responded to changes in the make-up of the ruling military Junta and advocated for elections and a broadly based government. In El Salvador, a military government faced growing popular opposition and radicalization on the leftist and rightist fringes. Hoping to improve the situation, Carter opted for a quid-pro-quo policy of military and economic aid in exchange for improvements in human rights practices and progress toward open elections. Following a coup d’état against President Carlos Humberto Romero in October 1979, a Revolutionary Governing Junta received U.S. support, but continued to struggle to stabilize a political situation that saw attacks by leftist-Marxist guerrillas and violence perpetrated by right-wing extremists.


The editor wishes to acknowledge the assistance of officials at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, as well as Kristin Ahlberg, Sara Berndt, Mandy Chalou, Renée Goings, Halbert Jones, Doug Kraft, Laura Kolar, Michael McCoyer, Tom Pearcy, Alexander Poster, Kathleen Rasmussen, and Chris Tudda, of the Office of the Historian.

The editor conducted the research for this volume and selected and annotated the documentation under the supervision of Kathleen B. Rasmussen, Chief of the Global Issues and General Division. She and Assistant to the General Editor Kristin L. Ahlberg reviewed the volume. Chris Tudda coordinated the declassification review under the supervision of the Chief of the Declassification and Publishing Division Carl E. Ashley. Stephanie Eckroth and Margaret Ball performed the copy and technical editing.

Nathaniel L. Smith