156. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Discussion of International Issues


    • U.S.
    • The President
    • Secretary Vance
    • Dr. Brzezinski
    • Ambassador Lucey
    • Assistant Secretary Vaky
    • R. Pastor, NSC Staff
    • M. Nimetz, Counselor, State
    • J. Powell, Press Secretary
    • Mexico
    • President Jose Lopez Portillo
    • Foreign Secretary Santiago Roel
    • Hugo B. Margain, Mexican Ambassador to Washington
    • Jesus Reyes Heroles, Secretary of Government
    • General Felix Galvan Lopez, Secretary of National Defense
    • Jose Andres Oteyza Fernandez, Secretary of National Wealth & Industrial Development
    • Oscar Flores, Attorney General of the Republic
    • Jose Ramon Lopez Portillo, Director General for Documentation and Analysis, Department of Programming and Budget
    • Rafael Izquierdo Gonzalez, Adviser to the President
    • David Ibarra Munoz, Secretary of Finance and Public Credit
    • Ricardo Garcia Sainz, Secretary of Programming and Budget
    • Jorge de la Vega Dominguez, Secretary of Commerce
    • Fernando Rafful Miguel, Head of Department of Fisheries
    • Edmundo Flores, Director General of the National Commission for Science and Technology

LOPEZ PORTILLO: It has been suggested that this first session take up international matters. If that is agreeable, shall I or you begin?

CARTER: Let me exercise the prerogative of a guest and suggest you start.

LOPEZ PORTILLO: Let me describe how we see the world—from the perspective of a developing country. I have recently travelled to Russia, Japan, China, Spain and have received several Chiefs of State.2

First, some general comments: Humanity has supposed that international fora ought to be able to solve problems and channel opportunities. This is a valid dream but it is as yet unrealized. This worries me. The UN has become bureaucratized; blocs, prejudices, a priori positions, antagonisms, policies impede analyses. Due to some obscure psychological reason, we have personalized the UN as if it is an impersonal entity, ignoring the fact that it will be what we want it to be. We should strengthen it, not multiply fora. The most satisfactory way to solve problems is to solve world problems.

From our point of view we are entering a period of adjustments; we have a series of new interests. The most powerful nations, the U.S. and the USSR, have not formulated new policies. This makes it difficult for us to shape our policies. The USSR’s objectives in its sphere of influence are clear. It has organized its area with a division of work; nations can plan predictably. It is an area of “order.”

Very frankly, the U.S. does not have clear objectives or policies. There is disorder, with no system of interests or purpose save the flow of interests. This includes Japan and Europe. This worries us. Lack of a policy complicates issues and solutions. This is particularly true of Latin America. The U.S. has not defined a policy toward Latin America. Every day we are further away.

[Page 352]

I recognize that Latin American nations do not have a policy among themselves. It is not a monolithic, ideological area.

I note with interest China’s entry into the modern world. I believe that normalization of relations between the U.S. and China is a most important event. We believed a few years ago that the union of China and the USSR was intended to define a strategy. This proved to be untrue. The rupture of the left complicates the situation. Possible Japanese-Chinese unity would present a powerful new force in the next century. China is patient, however.

China says that USSR hegemony is growing while U.S. hegemony is declining. There is bitterness in USSR-China relations. The trend in the USSR is clearly toward an increase in the standard of living for its people. China will fight for equality. There have been recent problems along its borders. The logical joining of Japan and China would be interesting. There is a potentially significant future there.

There is imbalance in the Near East. Recent events in Iran are an example. There is a serious risk that this could extend to other Arab countries, which would be very serious because of oil. Let me give a personal view: The U.S. involved itself (through human rights) in Iran and stimulated change before it had developed a scheme or a substitute. Thus, it created instability in a critical area.

I am also worried about Africa. There are states there “without nationality.” The division of influence in Africa is not clearly defined; Africa is a critical mass. This worries us.

European self-definition is also in crisis. The risk of instability there worries us.

In all these instances there is no forum where these things can be brought up.

Latin America is in a similar situation. Panama has been stabilized thanks to your efforts. I congratulate you on what I know was a most difficult political thing to do. U.S.-Cuban relations are stagnant. The possibility of closer ties has been complicated by events in Africa and geopolitics. Nicaragua worries us. Again, the situation was stimulated without a substitute equilibrium ready to be put in place. Mexico’s own relations with Latin America are not much better. We have no relations with Chile. We have difficulties with Argentina over the Comparo asylum case. We are very interested in preserving the right of asylum for refugees.

We all face a great challenge. To respect freedom one cannot destroy justice.

CARTER: I have listened to your remarks with great attention and interest. I know of your perspective as a leader of a great and developing country and of your own background as a philosopher, a writer, an administrator. Let me give you my views.

[Page 353]

To me, our policy in foreign affairs is clear. We intend to remain strong, and to magnify our strength for the benefit of all mankind.

The relationships between the U.S. and other nations are complex and are complicated by a number of factors. Our primary goal is to assure peace and recognize the inevitable changes which are taking place in the world. Everywhere, there is a desire of people to control their own affairs and determine their own lives. More than a hundred nations have now been formed; they are determined to control their own future. The time for colonialism is gone. The time for super-powers to control events has passed. The concept of a two-power condominium is not valid. We recognize this gratefully and with some degree of relief.

I agree that the UN has not realized its potential, but new regional organizations have shown vitality. The EC is stronger. ASEAN is strong and growing. The U.S. has supported the African effort in the OAU. The OAS has not fulfilled its potential, but we hope it will be strengthened.

We have tried to reach out to nations like China from whom we have been alienated. My hope is that our new relationship with China will ease tensions between the PRC and the USSR and not exacerbate the problems that exist. We have made this clear to both China and the Soviet Union. I believe our success in that has been good.

We have had some problems in our relations with the Russians, but we consult on a number of matters. We are approaching the conclusion of SALT II. Only a few small technicalities remain. The UK will join us in pushing for a comprehensive test ban which would prohibit for the first time the testing of all nuclear explosives. We have worked with the Soviets to limit the sale of conventional arms. In the meantime, we have taken some unilateral actions with regard to conventional arms restraints.

We have tried to enhance the degree of commitment to basic human rights both in the U.S. and encourage others outside the U.S. to do the same. Awareness of violations of human rights has risen although serious violations still occur. We look on our progress with some satisfaction. In the western Pacific, this was our most serious problem two years ago.

Now, for the first time in my life, we have better relations with India, Japan and China. Australia, New Zealand and Korea are stronger. ASEAN nations are oriented to the same principles we ascribe.

I am concerned about problems in this Hemisphere. We have attempted to maintain the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs. We have made good progress with reference to the Panama Canal, and treaty implementation. Under the auspices of the OAS and working with two other governments, we have tried to improve the situation in Nicaragua, but that effort was not successful. This is a [Page 354] matter in which the influence of Mexico might be exerted in a more forceful manner and would be constructive. Central America is explosive. The dangers of instability could spread to Nicaragua’s neighbors. El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have similar problems. There is little cohesion to preserve peace. The Nicaraguan situation also has an effect in Costa Rica and Panama. The situation in Central America—and in Latin America—could benefit from Mexico’s strong leadership.

You have good relations with Cuba, many others do not. We tried to establish good relations with Cuba. Diplomatic Interest Sections were established, and I extended the hand of friendship to Mr. Castro for the first time in many years.3 But our public expressions of concern have not been considered adequate. In recent months, Cuba has greatly expanded its interventionist effort in Africa. Cuban personnel are in twelve nations besides Angola and Ethiopia. Cuba has armed itself to a much greater degree than is necessary. Their refusal to sign the Treaty of Tlatelolco has caused us some concern. I am worried about Cuban influence in Central America if the situation there deteriorates.

We have also tried to lessen tensions and find peaceful solutions in other areas as well—Namibia, Rhodesia, Cyprus. I have spent more personal time to try to bring peace to the Middle East than on any other issue. We have made progress in some areas; in others we have not. We have no control over other leaders; all we share is a dedication to peace.

Economic stability also concerns us. We equally look for instruments to assure progress, to an enhancement of open trading relationships, a more equitable distribution of wealth, more stable markets, lessening of tensions. I want to listen to friends on these and other matters.

What I have outlined is descriptive of our situation and the limitations on our influence and on our abilities. In spite of these problems, we look on the future with a modest degree of optimism and a hope that we can make a better world.

LOPEZ PORTILLO: Let me elaborate a little more, and let me take Central America as the illustration since it is a region to which Mexico is deeply committed.

This is a region whose problems are to some degree determined by the size of the nations there. They have no oil and are too small to be viable; historically, the area should have been a federation. Mexico would have been like Central America had it not established a federal structure. Save for Costa Rica, the countries have military systems that do not give adequate alternatives to the people. Mexico has an [Page 355] institutional structure that satisfies its people. Central America does not have that. It is easy to see the Cuban model being accepted if the peoples’ hopes are dissipated. When there are no prospects for improvement, troubles lead to extremes. If Central America cannot solve its economic problems and meet its aspirations, its present system will be destroyed. It will be an area of unrest, prey to any scheme that promises something better. We want to see solutions in Nicaragua and in Central America. We understand the situation and the constant risk that the region will be destabilized.

The economic issues are vital. Economic systems are trying to solve international problems which are beyond their capabilities. The national state system cannot solve or deal with interdependencies. Transnational corporations operating without a political structure and with no social responsibility are becoming increasingly important. They are in fact getting out of control and are controlled by no nation. The U.S., Europe, and all sovereign States are losing the battle. They have practical answers for transferring goods that States don’t have, but without social responsibility, they are, in effect, irresponsible. The transnationals tend not to think of or deal with those dimensions. There is thus tension for the future between development and social needs.

This “de-metropolization” of the economic structure is cause for worry. The multinationals have acquired tremendous strength, but they ignore social problems. This is something we should look at.

CARTER: What can we do now in Nicaragua? The mediation has been unsuccessful. What can we do now?

LOPEZ PORTILLO: There are delicate aspects to this. I believe that if the problems are not posed in their correct dimension they will not be solved. Friends must speak frankly. The background and nature of the Nicaraguan problem must be understood.

Mexico firmly holds to the principle of non-intervention. For reasons which I have pointed out, U.S. intervention in Nicaragua was evident for many years. The political and economic system is proof. The U.S. created it. At this point, frankly, the problem was created by the expression of the U.S. human rights policy which pulled the carpet out from under Somoza without first having created a substitute system to take its place. Now we find the only alternative is revolution or U.S. intervention. Mexico will frankly not participate in either.

The responsibility rests basically with you. We hope you understand the situation and our position.

CARTER: You have described the past, but what about the future? We believe the Nicaraguan people should express their political will freely. In the absence of Mexican involvement, we volunteered to mediate a peaceful solution along with the Dominican Republic and [Page 356] Guatemala. The U.S. has no desire to overthrow Somoza. Perhaps within the framework of the OAS, the marshaling of opinion and influence might yet be constructive in inducing a peaceful solution. Is this possible?

LOPEZ PORTILLO: We would like to find a formula, but the OAS is suffering from sclerosis. Therefore, institutional intervention is not appropriate. But I believe it is possible to act through the OAS and still respect non-intervention.

I should note that we heard of a lamentable case last September in which Venezuela, Costa Rica and Panama had decided to intervene in the situation by arms—to invade Nicaragua—and the U.S., when it heard of this, braked this absurd adventure. There is thus a disparity of criteria within the OAS. It is suggested by some that what is happening in Nicaragua is an attempt against humanity, and that armed intervention is justified. We do not sympathize with Somoza, but we believe that non-intervention is a solemn commitment. It is difficult for outsiders to define the situation within Nicaragua.

We lived in a similar situation for years. It was necessary to solve our problems by ourselves—by arms if necessary. Over the last sixty years, we have become a stable society. There are, of course, risks, but it is essential that outsiders allow a people to resolve their own problems.

The question is what is the alternative to Somoza. If it is not possible to find a democratic alternative, the alternative will be the Cuban model.

I believe, Mr. President, that we should insist on a solution in the OAS which would allow the Nicaraguan people to decide their fate. I must insist that Mexico cannot intervene directly unless at some time both sides want and invite some action. Perhaps then Mexico’s prestige may be helpful, but this does not appear possible. The dispute between both sides is serious and deep. Even if there were agreement not to use guns, they would still fight with clubs and bare hands. It is that serious. The only solution is perhaps through the OAS if we can strengthen that organization. The solution lies there. Certainly anything we could do legitimately outside the OAS, we could do inside.

CARTER: As you know, the mediators will soon submit the report of their mediation effort to the OAS. There may be a thorough debate. In the meantime, the U.S. will use its limited influence to pursue the idea of a freely-held plebiscite with everyone permitted to register and to vote with the OAS officials monitoring the fairness of the process.4

[Page 357]

Do you share our concern over the spread of tension to other nations in the region?

LOPEZ PORTILLO: Of course. For the economic reasons I mentioned, the tensions will be critical. There is no outlet for the peoples’ hopes and aspirations. Save for Costa Rica, the regimes are not democratic. Their problems in depth are connected to economic disorders. I believe that what is happening in Central America is representative of what is happening in the world to developing nations in their relations with developed nations. There are no outlets for their growth. Energy price hikes cause deterioration in these economic conditions. If the Middle East raises prices, Central America, for example, in order to obtain oil, will have no choice but to “export” its standard of living, that is, increase its level of poverty.

In effect, in these situations, raw materials are not treated fairly in the market place. In a “free play of forces,” the weaker countries suffer. They cannot compete, and the situation deteriorates markedly. They can become despairing. And when a man is without hope, he explodes. We must give hope to nations. If we do not, Central America will be replicated in Africa and Asia. If a Cuban solution is resorted to, then it is no longer a small problem, and the temptation arises to intervene to resolve the situation and prevent a radical solution. This is the danger in Nicaragua.

There is a serious situation for those countries in the Free World’s sphere of influence. The Free World sphere of influence does not provide a system or solution for the countries’ economics, standard of living and migration problems.

Mexico, to cope with this, proposed the Charter of Economic Rights and Duties.5 It had value as a declaration, but unfortunately no steps were taken to implement it. Neither financial, commercial or monetary systems provide developing nations with any hope. The powerful can ignore this situation for a while, but trouble will occur. Then the strong nations will feel compelled to intervene to defend their rights, a la Roman Empire—and as we know that led to the dark ages.

If we want to really resolve situations like Nicaragua—which is a symbol of the conditions that exist—we must establish a new economic order, especially in finance and trade. Otherwise the world will follow a dangerous course.

The Free World has neglected its sphere of influence more than the Socialist bloc. The latter have some hopes for development; the Free World does not. All can see its deterioration. This is my profound [Page 358] conviction. If we do not understand the specific cases we cannot deduce valid general conclusions.

CARTER: I believe that improving the quality of life is a basic goal and we must press to achieve it. That is why we have sought to make progress in the international economic area—in such measures as the MTN. How do you assess the contribution that can be made by the ongoing Multilateral Trade Negotiations to the developing countries? How do you view the importance of the GATT in shaping a new system? What can we do to resolve the apparent deadlock in the Common Fund?6

LOPEZ PORTILLO: We can discuss these issues tomorrow. Entry into GATT depends upon resolving our bilateral trade relations with the U.S., since that represents 70 percent of our total trade. For this reason, I view GATT as a bilateral issue.

Let me say the following: When I was Minister of Finance I led the Mexican delegation to the Tokyo Round.7 It was established as a principle there that liberalization of trade meant a structure “to treat the equal equally and the unequal unequally.” The U.S. must consider Mexico’s development problems. It needs tariff protection. The relative cost of inputs must be calculated to compensate for imbalances.

While initially we embarked on import substitution, this distorted our productive structure since it was highly protective and it concentrated on industry in Mexico City. We must now organize to export. To do that we need to develop the coastal area. We must make major changes. We have major resources in water, oil and agriculture. But we need to channel this development; we need time. Otherwise we will lose an historic opportunity. In acceding to GATT, we must consider the relative position of the U.S. as regards industrial development here. Just to liberalize trade risks failure. I insist that we must “treat equals equally and unequals unequally.”

Let me outline what we must do economically. Energy is a serious and major problem. Oil price increases triggered a vicious chain of events. Mexico has energy potential as you know. But we believe that energy resources are the patrimony of mankind. What is necessary is to organize all resources internationally for the good of all. It is not only the powerful who have energy needs. We need an international organization or arrangement to deal with all energy sources, not just [Page 359] oil. Many options have hydro-electric potential, for example, but access to funds and technology are beyond their reach. If we could finance world needs in this regard, we would relieve energy demands.

Mexico is willing to participate in a serious international effort to rationalize development, production, distribution and consumption patterns. If the U.S. would take this seriously, we could rationalize economic problems in the world.

CARTER: I note that the World Bank has expanded its support of hydro-electric and other energy production. This is something we should encourage. The U.S. has sought to concentrate its bilateral economic assistance in the poor sectors to meet basic needs.

The possibility of further oil discoveries even in Central America is good.

We believe that we need a reasonable forum for discussions between the developed countries and the G–77. Up to now, there has been rhetorical confrontation rather than a search for tangible solutions.

These subjects will be at the top of our agenda when we meet for the economic summit in Japan this summer:8 energy, Common Fund, production of food, reduction of trade barriers. Prime Minister Manley and Carlos Andres Perez have been very helpful in trying to bring some stability and substance to conversations between developed and developing countries. Prior to the meeting in Japan, I would welcome your suggestions. We will of course brief you completely afterwards.

I would like also to refer to development in the Caribbean. We have established a new mechanism to strengthen the economies of the Caribbean countries. We believe this important, and are anxious to participate. We hope others will also.

As you noted, we can discuss the MTN and GATT tomorrow.

Is there an opportunity for you to exert your influence with Cuba to urge them to withdraw their troops from Africa, to reduce their purchases of arms, to control the spread of nuclear weapons?

LOPEZ PORTILLO: There are many ideas on alternative sources of energy and rationalization of management. Perhaps because of our Latin temperament, we want to take these specific ideas and make them general.

We shall talk to Cuba even though we already know their point of view about their policies and their commitment to the USSR. Through my Foreign Minister, I have already spoken with them.9 However, we will make good use of any future occasion to make these points again.

[Page 360]

CARTER: The idea you have given us concerning a worldwide approach to energy is an important one. The energy problem will no doubt get worse. I hope we can explore your idea so that we can implement a broad approach to this issue. Perhaps our two Foreign Ministers can pursue this topic at a later meeting.

LOPEZ PORTILLO: For our part, we are indeed greatly interested in pursuing this. Perhaps my Minister of Industrial Development and Planning and the Director of PEMEX can join in such exchanges. These are things we have work on for a long time. Hence, you have the benefit of the views of a country which has large energy resources and does not want to distort the system. We would participate in a rational world system. We would commit our resources to that.

CARTER: This is one of the many good ideas you have put forward. It is worthy of follow-up.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Brzezinski Office File, Country Chron, Box 30, Mexico, 2/79. Confidential. The meeting was held at the Presidential Residence, Los Pinos.
  2. Lopez Portillo visited Spain in October 1977, the Soviet Union and Bulgaria in May 1978, and China and Japan in October and November 1978.
  3. See Documents 6 and 7.
  4. Documentation on Nicaragua is in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XV, Central America.
  5. The Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States was adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1974.
  6. Telegram 18353 from Geneva, November 29, 1978, reported that the 2-week conference on the Common Fund was being held to reach an agreement to create the framework for an institution to stabilize commodity prices, but that an agreement remained out of reach (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780492–0688)
  7. The Tokyo Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations began in 1973 and concluded in April 1979.
  8. Carter attended the G–7 Economic Summit in Japan on June 28 and June 29.
  9. See footnote 3, Document 138.