368. Summary of Conclusions of a Presidential Meeting1


  • Central America and the Caribbean


  • State

    • Secretary of State Cyrus Vance
    • Warren Christopher, Deputy Secretary of State
    • Viron T. Vaky, Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs
    • William Bowdler, Director of Intelligence and Research
    • Lawrence Pezzullo, U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua
    • Ambler Moss, U.S. Ambassador to Panama
    • Philip Habib, Senior Adviser to the Secretary of State
  • OSD

    • Graham Claytor, Deputy Secretary of Defense
  • CIA

    • Stansfield Turner, Director
    • Frank Carlucci, Deputy Director
  • White House

    • The President
    • Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Adviser
    • Hedley Donovan, Presidential Adviser
  • NSC

    • Robert Pastor, NSC Staff (Notetaker)

Summary of Conclusions

The President asked Secretary Vance to begin the briefing, and he, in turn, asked Phil Habib to make a presentation on the Caribbean. Bill Bowdler would follow with a presentation on Central America.


Habib said the problem we face in the Caribbean is that there are many new states, which are disorganized politically, impoverished economically, and unable to cooperate with each other. It is a jumble of countries, which range from Trinidad, which is prosperous and has oil; to Jamaica, which still has substantial wealth, but is steadily deteriorating economically due to a multitude of reasons, including mismanagement by the government. There is also Barbados and several other mini-states of 100–300,000 people. There is a tremendous variety [Page 914] in the English-speaking Caribbean, but only two countries—Trinidad and Barbados—are in decent economic and political condition. There are currently 7 independent countries in the Caribbean; there will probably be 11 countries by the end of next year. (S)

Habib said that a major problem of governments in the region is their inability to satisfy the growing expectations of their people. This is a problem for all governments, but it is particularly troublesome in the Caribbean where the exposure to Western products and values is so great due to travel, tourism, and emigration. These expectations are impossible to satisfy, making the political situation in these islands very fragile. (S)

Habib said there is a new generation of vigorous and radical leaders who were trained in the US and Britain during the 1960’s—a period of social activism and turmoil. The older generation of political leaders are moving out of power, and these younger fellows are on the make. Their energy could be productive if it were channeled through the democratic process, but this may not be the case. These young leaders make up a radical leftist minority, with ties to Cuba and to each other. This is potential danger in the Caribbean. (S)

The Cubans have a sizeable presence in Jamaica, Grenada and Guyana and they have taken advantage of that presence to expand their influence throughout the Caribbean. In certain cases, the Cubans have helped these radical groups to compete politically; in other cases, they have helped them to work through illegitimate channels. Two examples. In recent elections in St. Lucia, the moderate party lost, and the new government with a radical element in it has achieved power.2 In Grenada, a radical group achieved power by a coup. Other potential trouble spots are St. Vincent and Antigua. In some cases, the radical groups are working against corrupt and inadequate governments. For example, in Grenada the New Jewel Movement fought against Gairy who was not only corrupt and repressive, but also weird. (S)

Habib summarized by saying that our problem in the Caribbean is whether governments in the region can deal with these problems and promote economic development by democratic process or whether the region will move toward one party rule and direct ties toward more radical elements or countries, principally Cuba. There is a strong anti-imperalist and anti-capitalist current which has replaced the anti-colonialism of a few years ago, but anti-Americanism as a political theme does not go over so well in the region because the people there basically [Page 915] like Americans. We have been looking at this region quite intensively and have consulted with the British and Canadians and also with Venezuela, Mexico and others. Habib has just returned from London where he found the British and Canadian assessments of the region remarkably like our own.3 The British will be very helpful in the security field. They agree with us that it is fundamentally not a Cuban problem but a social, economic and political development problem. However, the Cubans are ready to take advantage of the situation, and they have the ability to act quickly, whereas we do not. The Canadians are a little more cautious than we are. The French, for the first time, are eager to help primarily because Cuba is pressing for the independence of Guadeloupe and Martinique. (S)

[Omitted here is discussion not relevant to the Caribbean.]

President Carter said that he wanted to be frank with the group, and without meaning to be critical, he feels that he has sat in the Presidency for three years and he still does not have a clear idea of what we are trying to do in the region. All he ever gets are last minute requests from Vance and Christopher for a budget supplemental to deal with these problems and this irritates him. There is nothing long-term to deal with the problem. Do we need a conference on this? Andy (Young) could take a group down to the area if this were necessary. Do we need a long-term stabilization program for the region? What are we trying to encourage? (S)

Habib answered by saying that we do need a coordinated and integrated program, and that was one of the conclusions of his report.4 He also found that there wasn’t sufficient attention given to the region. Since then, the Secretary has set up an interagency group, and it is looking into our policies toward Jamaica, Grenada and Guyana. The group will also examine what kind of coordinating effort could be undertaken in the economic, political and multilateral fields. We look forward to an early decision on these issues. In addition to these long-term programs, we also need to be able to react better to short-term crises. (S)

President Carter said that whenever there is a problem, all the recommendations seem to focus on sending more money. There is no idea what it will be used for. There is no sense of how it will fit into an overall approach. (S)

The President said he received recommendations that we should knock the hell out of Manley and support a moderate group. He said [Page 916] he was going down that path when Andy came to see him.5 He persuaded me that such a policy would be suicide in Jamaica, that Manley will be in power until 1981 and he is too strong to be overthrown. Such an approach would only put us in danger of losing Manley permanently. (S)

The President continued by saying that he felt that in sensitive areas, we are simply not getting sound advice. We need to treat even the small islands in the Caribbean with respect. If it is necessary to have Manley up here for a talk and to stay in the Mansion, he would be prepared to do that or if we wanted to send someone down—like my wife or Andy—I would be willing to do it. (S)

Secretary Vance said that a number of months ago he asked Habib to undertake the task of developing a comprehensive strategy for the Caribbean. He particularly asked Habib for suggestions on the way to deal with Jamaica. The Secretary felt that the President might be overreading what he and Dr. Brzezinski had recommended. We are not suggesting that we jump Manley, but rather that we express concern about recent developments. We have to be careful to think of what kind of leverage we have in Jamaica; to exercise that effectively, we need to know the local situation better. Recently, he spoke to some officials from Kaiser, which has long experience in Jamaica, to get a better feel for the situation there. (S)

Dr. Brzezinski pointed out that in the memo which he sent the President that morning he wrote we should not view Manley or even Bishop as irretrievable.6 To do so would only have the effect of pushing them in a radical direction. (S)

President Carter said he was not referring to the memo this morning, but rather to the advice he had been getting for the past three weeks. (S)

Dr. Brzezinski then tried to put the current difficulties in a broader perspective. The Caribbean and Central America have recently emerged from a colonial or neocolonial legacy. Central America has long been under US domination, while the Caribbean has been under the domination of various European countries. One needs to understand the current problems in the region within this context and also within the more recent context of US disengagement. Our long-term goals are correct. The problem is in the short-term and in the mid-term where it looks as if the US is out of the picture, and people who are hostile to the US are on the offensive. (S)

Dr. Brzezinski recommended that the President make a speech soon, which states that the US has long and enduring interests in the [Page 917] Caribbean. But these interests are different than they have been in the past. We are interested in the long-term development and democratization of the region. We are interested in letting these countries define their own place in the world. But in the short-term, we should be prepared to assert ourselves, politically, economically, and perhaps even militarily. [2 lines not declassified]. In addition, we need to be prepared to provide more economic aid to the region and we need to do more politically. Unless Manley realizes we are in the picture, and we are willing to crack down, he will gravitate to the left. (S)

Secretary Vance said that our technological and economic assistance is our advantage, and we should use it more. (S)

Dr. Brzezinski agreed, and said that our approach should be clearly set in a secure and confident context. We are a major power with major responsibilities, but we are interested in helping the countries in the region achieve their objectives of development and democratization. (S)

President Carter said we may have made an enormous mistake in Jamaica if we had followed the original path,7 but what really disturbs him is that the discussion seems permeated with an inadequate attitude. We should try hard not to be exploitative. It is wrong to think that we can buy friends, and I think that is our major problem. I don’t think that people in the area think that the US really cares about them, that we are their friends. There are many ways we can demonstrate this interest. We have a thousand major universities in the US and I could call and ask them to participate in a program to help the area. If I called some business leaders and told them we have a problem, and divided up responsibilities, I am sure they would be glad to help. I believe we could really help if we did this. The American people would be happy to establish friendly relations directly with the people of the area. I don’t feel that the people in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and perhaps even in Costa Rica feel that we care about them; perhaps they think that Cuba does. (S)

The President said that as long as white Anglos sit in the Cabinet Room and think of ways to keep out the Cubans, we will be unable to get at the problems in the area. If we could spend our time thinking of ways we can help the people of Guatemala—to work out a good transportation system or an educational system—I think that would work. We need to get the American people involved—the church, business, labor, etc. When I was in Atlanta, the Baptist Church there sent 30 people into the mountains to help poor people, and I think that helped. We do not have a broad enough outreach and I believe they [Page 918] can sense that. And we ought to do that. They probably feel we have been exploitative and they are probably right. (S)

Habib referred to two examples to prove the President’s point. The Prime Minister of Dominica was recently here and asked for just $200,000 of fertilizer and a few bundles of seeds to begin to reconstruct his country’s agriculture after the hurricane. We were able to respond quickly, and the Prime Minister became a hero when he returned. By and large, we have neglected the area because we thought it was a British responsibility. We need to change that. Our two goals should be democracy and development. Business is not going into the Caribbean because it is not profitable (due to poor transportation, etc.) and because they feel they are unwelcome (rhetorical attacks against international corporations). (S)

Habib said that Manley is a complex person. The British think he is off the wall; they also believe that Bishop is not salvageable. Habib agrees with that. Manley is preparing to win the election and that explains the reason for his radical shift. We ought to continue to press Manley and Bishop to go toward free elections. As to Manley, Habib did judge him on his ability to maintain the democratic process and to make his source function better. He has an affinity for Cuba because he admires Castro and because he wants to play a world role.8 (S)

In Guyana the alternatives to Burnham are worse. (S)

President Carter said he is not trying to oversimplify, but it seems to him that what we need to do is change our basic attitude. We need to do what we can to give them a reason to like the US. We need to reach beyond the government structure and relate directly to the people. (S)

The President says that he thinks Manley, like him, is a politician facing elections. He wants to do the right thing, but maybe he is constrained. Maybe we can give Manley some help in agriculture. That was Andy’s suggestion. We have Castro beat 10,000 to one in this area, but somehow we cannot compete. If we concentrate on labor and agriculture, we can magnify greatly what we can do in Jamaica. The problem is we have a tendency to hold on to things. (S)

Dr. Brzezinski said that we need to break with the paternalistic tradition. (S)

President Carter said that we still have it. Dr. Brzezinski said we must engage the private sector which would involve them and others. Secretary Vance said that the business community is prepared to work [Page 919] with us. Habib said that the AFL/CIO wants to expand its activities, but to do so requires money. (S)

The President said that he is the only person in the region who can marshal all the resources, private and public. He said that we need a country-by-country analysis, describing in detail what resources are required, and who he should contact, and he said that he would get in touch with these people. (S)

Admiral Turner said that the CIA is considerably more pessimistic than Andy Young about Jamaica. Jamaica has received about $100 million during the last year, but much of this has been wasted. It is possible that Jamaica may have passed the point where we can influence Manley to continue down a Parliamentary path. Turner cited a number of instances of Cuban-Soviet collaboration in Jamaica, including the fact that the [4 lines not declassified] The CIA thinks that it is difficult for him to come back after making such a sharp turn to the left. (S)

[Omitted here is discussion not relevant to the Caribbean.]

Secretary Vance said that we need a contingency fund; otherwise, it is very difficult to respond rapidly to such opportunities. President Carter agreed with him. (S)

Habib said that he had briefed the Congress on the Caribbean, and had found considerably more sympathy there than in parts of the bureaucracy for more money to the Caribbean. (S)

President Carter said that we need to plan ahead and anticipate these changes and developments. He acknowledged that there is a fair amount of attention to the region, but he insisted that we do not have an adequate long-range approach to the region. He said that we are starting to correct that, but we have not thought through what we should do in an extra-governmental way. He wondered whether we had graduated from a neocolonial perspective, but thought that we haven’t. The general tone of the briefings at the beginning of the meeting suggested that we are about to lose these countries from our sphere of influence. He thinks that is the wrong approach. (S)

The President said that we need to focus much more on the preparation of the FY 81 budget as it applies to our concerns in Central America and the Caribbean. We need to build in some flexibility—perhaps including a contingency fund—so that we can respond rapidly to events. (S)

Dr. Brzezinski suggested that we respond to the problems in the Caribbean and Central America in five ways: First, we must respond to the socio-economic needs with an economic assistance plan, and we will provide the President with such a plan. Secondly, we need to develop a strategy to deal with the political-military problems in the region. Third, we need to develop a covert strategy which complements [Page 920] our overall approach. Fourth, we need to develop an extra-governmental strategy, devising ways to mobilize the resources of the country as the President had described. (The President interjected by suggesting that we examine the example of a group from Georgia who went to Haiti recently to plant one million trees.) And fifth, we need to develop a regional strategy for engaging other Latin American countries in these problems. Secretary Vance can follow this up in La Paz. (S)

Secretary Vance suggested a number of mechanisms we can use, such as land grant colleges. Habib said that the AFL wants to do more. (S)

The President said that he is eager to help. This conversation should help to stimulate our thinking, and he asked the group to come back to him with an analysis of each country individually—not the region—and what we can do. It is surprising what can be done if we set our minds to it. (S)

Habib suggested that a good time to mobilize this effort would be at the Committee on the Caribbean meeting in Miami in November. Secretary Vance said that the President has agreed to see Prime Minister Adams of Barbados.9 (S)

Ambassador Moss agreed that we faced a significant attitudinal problem. There are a lot of suspicions in the area, particularly that the only reason we are interested in it is because of Castro. (S)

The Secretary said that he will mention the need for a new attitudinal approach in his speech in La Paz.10 (S)

The President said that Bob Graham, Governor of Florida, had recently visited three or four countries in the Caribbean and was very excited with the experience. One of the President’s neighbors in Plains had spent a year in Jamaica, and another group from Georgia had gone to an island in the Caribbean and given every person on the island dental work. This is the kind of activity which conveys a genuine feeling of warmth. Georgia had a relationship with the Brazilian state of Pernambuco, and it was a good opportunity to assert our influence in an exciting and enjoyable way. To me, this is one of the best opportunities to relate to other governments, without trying to figure out what we are trying to get out of it. (S)

The President also expressed some skepticism about the quality of our ambassadors. In a country which is black or Spanish-speaking, he wondered whether we are sending our best ambassadors. We should [Page 921] look very closely at the quality of our ambassadors, and we ought to assess every possibility of upgrading our people in the area. (S)

Vaky said that the U.S. traditionally has difficulty relating to the interests of these countries. Whether it is on sugar or tin, we do not take into account their concerns very well. The IDB is currently having a problem with Ecuador, for example. We need to find a better way to examine the consequences of our global policies. Secretary Vance said that we should also examine the GSP from that perspective. (S)

The President said that there is another opportunity we should examine. Dante Fascell can help us by organizing a group of Congressmen. The region is an attractive place to visit. If they did, we could arrange meetings with good, moderate leaders, but we need to identify with the people. For too long, dictators had identified key members of the Congress and entertained them. By the time we tried to change our policies, it was more difficult. We should involve them early on. We need to work with Fascell, and look for another 20 like him. (S)

Dr. Brzezinski said that in about 15 minutes an interagency group would be meeting to examine ways to improve the quantity and quality of our manpower in Central America and the Caribbean, and he said that that was very much consistent with what the President had said. (S)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 46, Folder: Latin America, 10/15–31/79. Secret. Drafted by Pastor. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room.
  2. In telegram 2612 from Bridgetown, July 3, the Embassy reported that on July 2, St. Lucian Prime Minister John Compton and his United Workers Party were defeated by Allan Louisy and the St. Lucia Labor Party in national elections. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790303–0734)
  3. See footnote 3, Document 366.
  4. Presumably a report of his August 12–23 trip to the Caribbean area. See footnote 4, Document 328.
  5. See Documents 199 and 200.
  6. Presumably Document 367.
  7. See Documents 197 and 198.
  8. Habib and Ambassador Lawrence met with Manley on August 17. Telegram 6005 from Kingston, August 21, reported on the meeting. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790382–0622)
  9. See Document 333.
  10. For the text of Vance’s statement at the OAS General Assembly, see the Department of State Bulletin, December 1979, pp. 65–67.