240. Telegram From the Embassy in Colombia to the Embassy in Venezuela, the Department of State and the White House1

5430. Subject: Mrs. Carter’s Meeting With President Lopez.

Following is telegraphic memo of conversation which took place at Presidential Palace from 11 am to 12:15 on June 10. Memo is subject to approval by Mrs. Carter’s party. Participants were: President Lopez, Foreign Minister Lievano, Mrs. Carter, Asst Secy Todman, Charge Drexler, and Ms. Hoyt and Mr. Pastor.

1. After an exchange of greetings, Pres Lopez noted that Mrs. Carter had received letters from the opposition in Brazil during her visit to that country.2 He said he had offered both branches of the Colombian Communist Party the opportunity to communicate complaints to Mrs. Carter but they had declined and said they had not been deluded by the USG position on human rights. Mrs. Carter commented that of course the Colombian record on human rights was very good.

2. Mrs. Carter outlined for Lopez the background to her trip and President Carter’s outlook towards Latin America. She underlined the President’s interest in working closely with Latin American nations in cooperative efforts aimed at resolving regional and bilateral problems, she explained that the administration had adopted a more open approach to foreign relations and would be governed by the belief that our foreign policy needs to reflect our national values. We were seeking a wider participation in world politics as well as broad progress, on a multilateral bais, in human rights. President Carter also wants to end the spectre of war and reduce the waste of resources in armaments. The administration was, in particular, seeking wider Latin American adherence to the Treaty of Tlatelolco and the NPT. President Lopez remarked that the USSR had asked Colombia to take the lead among other LA nations in pressing Brazil and Argentina to ratify both these treaties.

3. Turning to specific measures the administration had already taken in furthering its LA policy objectives, Mrs. Carter cited the Panama Canal Treaty negotiations. She commented that significant problems still remained but that there had also been good progress and that we hoped for an agreement by the end of this summer. She thanked Lopez for the help he had already rendered in facilitating an agreement [Page 704] and asked him to impress upon Torrijos the need for reaching agreement on a new treaty before the summer was over. Lopez said he had not been in touch with Torrijos recently but added that he himself was “quite optimistic” about the treaty negotiations. Reiterating comments he had made earlier to Ambassadors Bunker and Linowitz,3 Lopez said that only the USG was in a position to guarantee the security and neutrality of the Canal for the other nations of the Western Hemisphere. He said he had told Torrijos that Panama should possess the area’s resources and the US should hold the guarantee.

4. Regarding our bilateral relations with Cuba, Mrs. Carter reported that progress had been made but problems remained. She underlined the importance of the fact that we at least had opened a dialogue with Castro. Lopez characterized Castro’s latest speech on relations with the US as “tricky”.

5. Resuming her outline of the administration’s approach to foreign relations, Mrs. Carter said we were also seeking better institutional frameworks since those existing were formed at the time of World War II and had been overtaken by subsequent developments. She reiterated that we would be consulting closely with LA nations in developing our global policies and in attacking world problems. Lopez commented that if there is any nation with which the US has no problems, it is Colombia.

6. Developing further her earlier comments on human rights, Mrs. Carter said that on her trip she had encountered a far better response than she had expected to the Administration’s policy. She sensed a new spirit and popular interest with regard to safeguarding human rights and said that in view of Colombia’s good experience we would welcome Lopez’ suggestions on how to proceed. Lopez observed that the climate for furthering the cause of human rights seemed good. He commented that most governments in the world, and particularly in Latin America, were suffering from unpopularity because of inflation and a number of other reasons. In the democracies, people were calling for stronger, more effective government whereas in the military regimes, the people wanted democracy. In the latter nations, the regimes were being forced to promise elections and other changes in the next years ahead in order to calm their people. And this climate, in Lopez’ view, could be propitious for advancing the cause of human rights in those countries. He cautioned, however, that it would be hard, and inadvisable, for the US to act as a “protector” of human rights in LA particularly since this was really the collective obligation of the OAS and UN. He argued for the designation of a Latin American [Page 705] commissioner for human rights within the OAS framework. Lopez envisioned the appointment of some distinguished statesman to fill this role and thought it might even be a Canadian, who would have special claims to objectivity. He added that this official should not be termed a “Secretary General” because this title sounded far less imposing in Spanish than in English. Lopez referred to recent moves by some Southern Cone countries to form a bloc countering US efforts on behalf of human rights by alleging that they constituted “intervention.” In response to a question, Lopez and Lievano indicated that these moves were still under way but that Colombia had not been welcome as a participant. When asked what democratic nations might do to counter such moves on on the part of Southern Cone nations, Lopez underlined that both Colombia and Venezuela had refused to join in and that the GOC, as he had mentioned previously, was advocating a collective approach to safeguarding human rights and an impartial Latin American Commissioner as an “ombudsman.”

7. Turning to the question of narcotics, Mrs. Carter said the President was seriously concerned about drug abuse and accordingly had established a special White House Office on the problem, headed by Dr. Bourne, who was very close to the Carters. She reminded Lopez that Dr. Bourne and Ms. Falco, the Secretary of State’s Special Adviser on Narcotics, planned to visit Colombia shortly. Mrs. Carter expressed the hope that President Lopez would meet with Bourne and Falco4 to discuss how our cooperative programs could be made more effective. Lopez stated that there were few things that had disappointed him as much as his experience with the USG with regard to narcotics control. He said the question was whether Colombia was corrupting the US or vice versa. In this connection, he stressed that it was American money, channels and aircraft that were being used in narcotics trafficking involving Colombian territory. He referred to his conversations nearly three years ago with President Ford and Secy Kissinger5 who, he said, promised to help Colombia with the equipment it needed to fight the traffickers, including helicopters and communications gear. Much time had elapsed since then and we were still debating the terms of an agreement to supply just three helicopters.

8. Mrs. Carter said the administration recognized the role of the American domestic market for drugs but she stressed that in this interdependent world it was impossible to confine responsibility in such a matter to one country. She went on to observe that the narcotics traffick [Page 706] ing had had a corrupting influence on the GOC. Both Lopez and Lievano said they entirely agreed with Mrs. Carter but they stressed that the GOC does not have the resources to fight back against the traffickers and that the promised USG help had never come. Mrs. Carter commented that the sources of this trafficking problem can be found in both the US and Colombia and that we needed to work together. Lopez observed that we should have begun doing so three years ago. He went on to describe the geographical factors which favored trafficking from the northeast part of Colombia. He added that recently discovered plantations for growing marihuana used advanced agricultural technology financed by Americans. Mrs. Carter reiterated that corruption was limiting the effectiveness of Colombian enforcement action. Lopez again agreed and emphasized the GOC’s need for more and better equipment. Mrs. Carter repeated that she hoped President Lopez would meet with Bourne and Falco when they visited Colombia. Lopez said the GOC wanted to cooperate and fight alongside the US in this battle against the traffickers.

9. Mrs. Carter next registered the administration’s concern over American prisoners, like Thelen,6 who had been held in Colombia for very long periods without being brought to trial. She related this to our concerns about human rights and underlined the interest in such cases in the US. Lopez replied that human rights in Colombia are protected by law, that the laws need to be enforced by an independent judiciary and that the Colombian executive branch cannot manipulate the judicial process because that would in fact be a violation of human rights. Mrs. Carter reiterated the concerns that were felt in the US with regard to persons who had been held several years without trial. Lopez acknowledged that there were delay and backlogs and said the Colombian Attorney General had recently undertaken to try to speed up some 8000 protracted cases which were pending trial. He also observed that such backlogs and judicial burdens were a problem in other countries, too, including the US.

10. Regarding the Starr kidnapping case,7 Mrs. Carter expressed appreciation for the GOC’s help and concern and voiced the hope that it would do everything possible towards securing Starr’s safe release. Lopez said the guerrillas seemed to be holding him in the remote El [Page 707] Pato area and that if GOC armed forces tried to rescue him there it would endanger his life. He stressed that in such cases it was essential to be patient, and he expressed the hope that Starr’s mother recognized the dangers of trying to force the issue by the use of armed force. Mrs. Carter underlined that the President was very close to the Peace Corps, particularly since his mother had also served as a PC volunteer.

11. Mrs. Carter asked if there were any messages or throughts which President Lopez wished her to convey to President Carter. In reply, Lopez raised the issue of trade preferences and tariffs. Reiterating the Lievano Plan for a Latin American regional system in which the US would favor its southern neighbors in the Hemisphere, Lopez said the GOC either wanted better treatment from the US or help in securing equal treatment for all developing countries from all of the developed nations. He had in mind the fact that Colombia suffered discrimination in terms of market availability from the nations in the Lome Agreement8 and the British Commonwealth. Mrs. Carter said the US wanted to work with the Colombians via the MTN in Geneva to reduce regional discrimination. We thought this far better than creating new regional trading systems (as envisaged in the Lievano Plan). Lopez observed that the developing nations were in the minority in the MTN at Geneva and that in particular there were only a handful of LA nations participating. He went on to thank the Carter Administration for its enlightened action on shoe imports9 and expressed the hope that it would take similar position in regard to efforts to curtail Colombian cutflower imports. Lopez and Lievano went on to explain that they did not regard an increase in Colombian exports to the US as a form of increased economic dependence on the US. Lopez also observed that if there was a world wide system of preference open to all countries which first renounced the preferences they received under closed, regional systems, there would be a continuing movement towards the larger, global system and away from the others.

12. Lopez also warned that one of the most serious political/economic problems that would confront the US within the next few years would result from the anticipated drop in coffee prices. He said Colombia had taken measures which would mitigate the impact here but that most other coffee exporting nations had not done so and had pegged their internal prices to the international price. They thus faced severe economic dislocations, unemployment and consequent political disrup [Page 708] tion when the price falls and the US would have to cope, especially in Central America, with the political problems this caused.

13. In conclusion, Mrs. Carter stated that the administration was committed to complete the Pan American highway segment10 in Colombia but was worried by lack of progress in curbing hoof and mouth disease. She expressed the hope that Pres Lopez would give this problem his personal attention. Pres Lopez good naturedly told Mrs. Carter to advise her husband not to waste his time worrying about this issue. Lopez said he had been listening to talk about completing the highway for many years but that meanwhile only the construction cost has gone up. He commented that it was all a complicated problem with many conflicting interests involved.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770208-0963. Confidential; Immediate; Exdis.
  2. See Document 165.
  3. See Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XXIX, Panama, footnote 2, Document 31.
  4. See Document 242.
  5. Presumably a reference to Lopez Michelsen’s meeting with Ford and Kissinger on September 25, 1975. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E-11, Part 2, Documents on South America, 1973–1976, Document 270.
  6. A reference to William Thelen, a U.S. citizen arrested in Colombia on May 13, 1975. (Telegram 4635 from Bogota, May 20, 1975, National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D750177-0980; Telegram 4812 from Bogota, May 25, 1977, National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770187-0509)
  7. Richard Starr, a Peace Corps volunteer, was kidnapped by the FARC on February 14, 1977. (Memorandum from Christopher to Carter, 2/15/77; Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 17, Evening Reports [State], 2/11-28/77)
  8. The Lome Convention was an investment and aid agreement between the European Community and the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group States (ACP), signed in Lome, Togo, in February 1975.
  9. See Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. III, Foreign Economic Policy, Document 17.
  10. A reference to the Darien Gap.