367. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • Some Ideas for Your Briefing on Central America (CA) and the Caribbean (CAR), Friday, October 19—3:00 p.m. (C)

State has suggested Stan Turner begin with an overview. Cy will give a policy overview and Habib and Bowdler will focus on the Caribbean and Central America respectively. (Each presentation would be about five minutes.) (C)

The Problem

The repeated crises we confront in the Caribbean (CAR) and Central America (CA) are, of course, related; they are symptoms of a more perplexing challenge characterized by the following;

—All these nations have rapidly expanding populations and scarce resources. Long appendages of the US or UK they are now asserting their national identities, and their new leaders are eager to play large (and vocal) roles on the world stage. (S)

—The Administration’s human rights and non-intervention policies have helped to bring long-standing contradictions and tensions to the surface. Our desire to replace paternalism with balanced relationships has provided these nations “space” to define themselves. Our continued predominance, however, irritates their nascent nationalism, and its results create problems for us. (S)

—Cuba offers a defiant, assertive alternative, and is now once again trying to profit from these tensions. (S)

Two Contrasting Regions

There is a need to recognize that the problem plays out different in the Caribbean and in Central America. (S)

—In the Caribbean, the parliamentary tradition survives, but has no deep roots. Problems are so immense that utopian, revolutionary posturing is very attractive. Every island has its radical group, and increasingly they are working with each other and with Grenada, Jamaica, Guyana and Cuba. (S)

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—With the exception of Costa Rica, Central America (and Haiti) lack a democratic tradition, and are burdened by an authoritarian and inequitable class structure. (S)

Our objectives therefore, have different emphases. In Central America, we have promoted democratic changes; in the Caribbean, we have sought to defend existing democratic institutions. (S)

Recent Developments

The Caribbean is becoming more polarized. Bishop of Grenada may have just made a decisive turn to the left by closing the independent newspaper and arresting some opposition leaders.2 Jamaica’s Manley gave an anti-US speech at the NAM and named a doctrinaire Marxist (D.K. Duncan) as his party leader.3 Guyana joined Jamaica, Grenada, and Cuba in attacking your October 1 speech.4 In contrast, Barbados and Trinidad are strong and successful, and exert some influence on the uncommitted mini-states. (S)

Most of the decisions by Manley, Bishop, and others, which disturb us, are probably made for internal reasons. Bishop in Grenada fears he is losing popular support. Manley has probably shifted to the left to capture the imagination of the radical youth of Jamaica, much as he did before his election in 1976. In Guyana, Burnham is just trying to hang on. (S)

Thus Caribbean politics often produces attacks on transnational corporations and capitalist countries. Even Trinidad’s conservative Eric Williams is convinced that the Caribbean’s plight is caused by Western exploitation. Some Caribbean leaders are eager to test our commitment to “ideological pluralism.” (S)

We should not consider Manley, or even Bishop, as irretrievable; this would unintentionally make them so. There is a potent opposition newspaper and party in Jamaica, and Cubans were thrown on the defensive by recent disclosures there. International public opinion matters in the Caribbean, even to Bishop of Grenada. (S)

In Central America, the recent coup in El Salvador may have turned the worst crisis into our best opportunity. The civilian appointments [Page 911] to the Junta are encouraging. If we can help Salvador to get on track toward free elections, that will have a very positive impact on its three closest neighbors. We must be very quick and flexible to respond to the new government’s requests, and helpful in dealing with the very real guerrilla threat. The new Junta will have to reach an accommodation with the Christian Democrats (PDC) by sponsoring free elections soon or by co-opting them into the government. We need to make sure that they do this. (S)

If El Salvador has free elections soon, Nicaragua and Honduras will be hard pressed to avoid them. Guatemala will have to reassess its opposition to social reforms. The game is much rougher in Central America than in the Caribbean, and the risks of being heavy-handed (or caught red-handed) are much less. We should use our leverage more. (S)

Issues and Ideas

Let me suggest that you focus the discussion on the following issues: (U)

(1) Precluding A Radical Alternative. How far should we be willing to go to prevent radical take-overs in the region? Should we be willing to provide counter-insurgency support to the new Salvadoran junta? Should we provide support to those who seek to replace Grenada’s Bishop? (S)

My own view is that we should be prepared to help the new Salvadoran junta with military and political assistance if it remains on track toward free elections. We should find all effective means to support centrist groups in the region and to expose Soviet/Cuban activities. (S)

(2) US Presence and Capabilities. Are we receiving sufficient high-quality intelligence? Is our presence adequate to convey the message of US interest and determination? (S)

I believe the answers to both questions are negative. US agencies continue to give the region very low priority in terms of quantity and quality of manpower. Even though we are the largest aid-givers to the region, few realize it because we have tended to give most of our aid through multilateral channels, and we seem reluctant to take credit for it. [3 lines not declassified] We have just begun an inter-agency review to determine ways to increase the quantity and the quality of our manpower in the region, but we will need your strong support if this effort is to succeed. (S)

(3) Economic Policies. Are we doing enough? The Caribbean Group is a successful initiative, and we should maintain our contribution, but we also need to expand bilateral programs and increase the flexibility of our aid-granting mechanisms in order to be able to respond rapidly [Page 912] to circumstances. We are also encouraging a Central American Development Group modeled on the Caribbean Group, but we are trying to keep a low profile in this, lest it look like our initiative. (S)

If we really want to help the Caribbean, we should reduce US protectionism in sugar, coffee, and meat. No other set of decisions would have as positive an impact on the region. Our rising interest in the Caribbean might make this fly politically here. (S)

(4) Diplomacy/Democracy. How can we effectively raise the costs to those who criticize us and the benefits to those who work with us? How can we better shape public opinion? How can we strengthen the democratic process? We should emphasize rewards for friends. More attention and aid. You may want to consider responding positively to requests for meetings with you by the democratic Presidents of the region: Barbados, Dominican Republic, and Costa Rica. Short meetings with them would send a clear message of our strong support for democracy to the whole region. (S)

I believe we should avoid punitive sanctions against those like Manley who have been insensitive to our concerns recently. Instead, we should gradually but modestly reduce our assistance to these countries; and we should “cool” our relations (fewer visits, less attention). The message will be understood and is sufficiently unobtrusive so as to give these leaders a chance to walk back. (S)

In addition, we should support centrist groups in both areas and continue to encourage the Europeans and Latin democracies to help these groups, and when necessary work with them. Cy should pursue this issue in La Paz.5 (S)

Finally, you should select a forum soon to speak on the Caribbean and Central America along these lines. The perfect occasion is the Conference on the Caribbean on November 28, 1979, hosted by Miami. If you so decide, I will prepare a draft speech.6 (S)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 46, Folder: Latin America, 10/15–31/79. Secret. Sent for information. Carter initialed the memorandum and wrote, “This is wrong approach. I’ll speak at meeting.”
  2. The Embassy reported on the closing of the newspaper Torchlight in telegram 4237 from Bridgetown, October 15. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790472–1045) The October 15 arrest of opposition leaders on the suspicion of plotting to assassinate New Jewel Movement leaders was reported in telegram 4246 from Bridgetown, October 16. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790474–0328)
  3. See Documents 193 and 194.
  4. The President’s speech concerned the Soviet brigade in Cuba; see footnote 2, Document 80. Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, and St. Lucia issued a statement on the speech on October 7. The text was transmitted in telegram 4558 from Bridgetown, October 9. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790463–0882)
  5. Vance traveled to La Paz to attend the OAS General Assembly session October 20–23.
  6. President Carter did not attend the Conference on the Caribbean, but he did provide a videotaped message. (Public Papers: Carter, 1979, Book II, pp. 2159–2161)