26. Address by the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Todman)1


I am pleased and honored to be here at the Center for Inter-American Relations, which plays such a unique and respected role in the life of this hemisphere. As analysts and in many cases participants in the policy process, you know that decisions are not made in a vacuum. In fact, the policy process at its best is based upon the creative interaction of public officials, outside intellectuals, businessmen, and other community members. Your contributions are invaluable; I greatly appreciate this opportunity to share my own thoughts with you.

This evening, I would like to discuss how I see the evolution of our relations with the peoples and governments of Latin America. My [Page 102] purpose, frankly, is to gain your support for what President Carter last April referred to as our need to “awake our institutions to a changing world.”2

A Restructuring of Basic Relationships

Since World War II, a succession of Administrations have3 acknowledged the importance of Latin America to the United States, and sought policies that would adequately reflect that importance. The results, however, have often been frustrating. Friends of the United States in Latin America, and serious students of U.S.-Latin American relations here, remain skeptical that American policy truly reflects either the region’s importance or the many and varied interrelationships between our country and Latin America.

President Carter came to office convinced that, if our behavior toward Latin America and the Caribbean reflects the values and priorities of the American people, it would then be possible to look to a new era of cooperation in this hemisphere. This Administration has not yet dispelled the skepticism of the past. Indeed, because the prevailing frustrations are frequently rooted in our societies themselves, they cannot be resolved by governments alone.

Clearly, however, the traditional environment of hemispheric relations has already changed fundamentally in recent years. Traditional security concerns have yielded to new human rights and trade issues. At the same time, what was once unchallenged U.S. dominance has evolved into a growing interdependence.

Latin American nations have grown in population, economic weight and political power. The trade among us provides a major market for U.S. exports and supplies us with key imports. The countries of Latin America and the Caribbean bring leadership and voting strength to international forums.

In sum, the other countries of the hemisphere affect us increasingly—and they know it. Having seen similar changes occur in Africa and Asia, I know that the new self-confidence of Third World leaders will require readjustments on our part. But I also believe it creates an opportunity for more mature and healthy relationships.

These shifts in global priorities and power have also brought foreign policy issues into the everyday lives of ordinary citizens, affecting their pocketbooks and their consciences. Increasingly, people are [Page 103] realizing that they are affected by foreign events, not just as citizens, but as workers and consumers—as coffee drinkers and car drivers.

These shifts are healthy for our relations with Latin America. The importance of Latin America to the United States has begun to make sense to the average American. And I believe this growing public consciousness offers the best hope in decades for developing a consistent framework for addressing issues that really matter.

The new awareness challenges us to move beyond a preoccupation with government activities alone, and to develop a foreign policy for Latin America that has both public support and community involvement.

What do we consider to be the nature of such a policy? First, it must speak to Americans where they live.

Events in Latin America and the Caribbean directly affect American communities. The strong ties between our peoples are growing. Black and Hispanic citizens in our communities are often linked by families and friendships to the Caribbean and Latin America. The Western Hemisphere, in fact, is unique in that the drama of its recent history has been played out not in the movement of armies or diplomats, but in the mass movements of ordinary people. Each year millions of U.S. citizens visit Mexico and the Caribbean nations, coming back with lasting impressions and leaving a profound imprint on the societies they visit. American communities in turn feel the influx of several million immigrants, most of whom come from Mexico and the Caribbean.

The importance of good hemispheric relations is also brought home by our growing energy needs. Latin America supplies 17% of our imported oil. Our dependence on our neighbors for energy, including natural gas, is likely to increase.

Even narcotics have become a major aspect of foreign affairs: the street value of narcotics from Latin America in the U.S. is said to be over $4 billion a year; their traffic darkens millions of lives and erodes thousands of communities.

Second, our foreign policy must speak to Americans where they work.

In the last ten years, our exports to Latin America have more than tripled, from $5 billion to almost $18 billion annually. We now sell more machinery, consumer goods and chemical products to Latin America than to the rest of the Third World combined—as much, in fact, as to the entire European Common Market, and more than to Japan. In addition to petroleum, Latin America, in turn, supplies us with copper, bauxite, other key minerals and a growing number of consumer products. U.S. private investment in the area is $23 billion.

What these statistics mean is that the overall growth of the U.S. economy and of employment in the U.S. is, and I believe will increas [Page 104] ingly be, influenced by similar growth in Latin America, and by our relations with its countries.

Requirements for Progress

Moving to a more community-based policy toward Latin America will require a major reorientation of national thinking. It cannot be accomplished overnight.

For too long the United States has assumed Latin America could be dealt with as a single, monolithic region. Too often, we have viewed internal social and political struggles through a lens that distorted Latin American realities and recast them in terms of our own East-West concerns. Too often, we have viewed Latin American efforts to reform their economies with suspicion. At our best moments, we have acted as champions of Latin American development. At our worst moments, our resort to military intervention has given credence to Latin American fears that their territorial integrity had less than our full respect.

Only rarely have we recognized Latin America for what it is: a grouping of nations with individual and distinct goals, aspirations and importance to the world community—and to us.

During the Administration’s first year, we have come far, I believe, in recognizing the individuality of the Latin and Caribbean countries. In an effort to get to know the countries better and to increase communication, I have visited every nation in the region and met with a broad cross section of leaders and citizens. Mrs. Carter, Vice President Mondale, Secretary Vance, Secretary Blumenthal, Ambassador Young and other key Administration leaders have carried the dialogue to many parts of the hemisphere. We have approached each country with a readiness to listen and to cooperate whenever we can.

The most dramatic example of this direct approach was the individual meetings President Carter held with the hemispheric leaders who came to Washington last September to witness the signing of the Panama Canal Treaties.4 With each, he took the occasion to listen to their views and to convey in turn a strong sense both of our concerns and of our desire for cooperation.

I am convinced that, as a result of these many direct contacts, hemisphere leaders share a high degree of understanding of each other’s concerns. The major challenge facing them—and all of us here tonight—is to translate that understanding into practical activities that improve the lives and prospects of ordinary citizens.

The new Panama Canal Treaties are an important beginning. They secure the future of the Canal. They offer the opportunity to put behind [Page 105] us the kind of one-sided and archaic relationship which the 1903 treaty epitomized to the whole hemisphere.

U.S. ratification of the Panama Canal Treaties, which I am confident, will take place in the very near future, will establish more than any words our willingness to deal with others as our sovereign equals, whatever their size or relative power.

Ratification will thus confirm a cardinal principle of the Carter Administration’s foreign policy: that the United States recognizes and is determined to respect the national sovereignty and independence of every state.

But non-interveniton alone is hardly a positive basis upon which to build effective foreign relationships. It is the first stage in a far more complex process. Having accepted the individuality and sovereignty of Latin American countries, we must follow through with the practical implications of that recognition in our bilateral relations.

During the past year, we have set in place a number of building blocks in addition to the new partnership with Panama. We have strengthened our working relationships with Mexico, Venezuela and many other countries. Recognizing the importance and needs of the individual island states of the Caribbean, we have participated in the creation of a new multilateral group to address the economic problems of the area and to foster cooperation within the entire Caribbean Basin.

We have accepted that governments will not go away just because we may not like them. Only governments can represent a nation’s sovereignty in the international arena; only the people of a country have the right to determine the nature of their government. Outside powers have no choice but to deal with existing governments—whether they approve of them or not.

With this in mind, this Administration has tried to place our policy toward Cuba in a more rational context. Our problems with Cuba remain, but we have exchanged inflexible hostility for a pragmatic willingness to negotiate issues which have some prospect of solution. This does not reduce our problems with many of the Castro Government’s policies, especially in Africa. But, by talking, we have a reasonable framework for dealing with our differences.

Ultimately, the challenge is to develop a foreign policy that responds essentially to human, not just governmental, concerns. The basic dilemma is as straightforward to state as it is complex to resolve: how to encourage respect for the dignity and freedom of the individual, the development of democratic institutions, and the fulfillment of basic human needs without interfering in a nation’s internal affairs, and while maintaining the constructive working relations necessary to advance all our many objectives.5

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Promoting human rights is a fundamental tenet and a cornerstone of this Administration’s foreign policy. It is central to our relations with all nations. I know that this deep personal conviction of my own, is profoundly held by the President and the Secretary of State. Moreover, because this commitment reflects universally recognized values, it binds us rather than separates us from the other peoples of this planet. It calls on the conscience of all governments to live up to their sacred obligations. It gives all people hope for a better future knowing that we stand behind their aspirations to share in the fullness of life.

That is why we have made clear to all countries that the nature of our relations with them will depend on their practices in the human rights area. In doing so we are not interfering in their internal affairs, but determining our own behavior in response to what we see.6

And it explains why President Carter’s emphasis on human rights has struck such a responsive chord throughout this hemisphere and the world.

Our efforts, of course, have done more than spark people’s hopes. They have provoked lively debates both here and abroad. For us, the central issue is not the direction of our policy or the strength of our commitment. That is unwavering. Rather, it is how our objectives can best be accomplished.7

Our experiences over the past year have shown clearly that we must be careful in the actions we select if we are truly to help and not hinder the cause of promoting human rights and alleviating suffering.8

—We must avoid speaking out before learning all the facts, or without calculating the likely reaction and responses to our initiatives.

—We must avoid expecting other governments to achieve overnight fundamental changes in their societies and practices in response to our bidding and without regard to historical circumstances.9

—We must avoid assuming that we can deal with one issue in isolation without considering the consequences for other aspects of our relationships.10

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—We must avoid believing that only the opposition speaks the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, about conditions in their country.11

—We must avoid presuming to know so much more about another society than its own citizens that we can prescribe actions for them without bearing any responsibility for the consequences.12

—We must avoid punishing the poor and already victimized by denying them assistance to show our dissatisfaction with their governments.

—We must avoid pointing to some and not to others. Selective morality is a contradiction in terms.13

—We must avoid condemning an entire government for every negative act by one of its officials.

—We must avoid holding entire countries up to public ridicule and embarrassment, trampling on their national dignity and pride.14

—Finally, we must avoid being so concerned with declaring the rightness of our course that we lose sight of our true objective—to alleviate individual suffering.

Tactical mistakes such as these do not promote human rights.15 They sacrifice communication and possibly influence, and resurrect old issues of sovereignty and intervention. And they can be avoided through good will, common sense, compassion and careful diplomacy.

While taking care to avoid such mistakes, we will not by any means retreat into silence or indifference.

We must proceed on the conviction that I consider to be the only basis for hope and optimism in our hemispheric relations: that it is possible to advance the rights and meet the basic needs of individual human beings while, at the same time, respecting the sovereignty of their governments.

We know we are not infallible. We know that we have faults to correct in our own society. But we will continue to attempt in every way to associate ourselves with the promotion of basic individual rights, the enhancement of political freedom, and the alleviation of those conditions of suffering that keep entire social groups at the margin of existence:

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—we will weigh all of our relationships to ensure that they contribute, not to the restriction or denial, but to the promotion of human rights;

—we will use every possible means of public and private persuasion to bring an end to abuses of the person wherever they occur;

—we will work to increase support for internationally recognized human rights standards with all governments that will work with us;

—we will work with the Organization of American States and its Inter-American Human Rights Commission to strengthen regional cooperation to identify abuses and seek their remedy; and

—we will endeavor to promote the kinds of economic, social and political development required to enjoy all the rights recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This last goal, promoting development, poses a special challenge to our active support for human rights. Under present foreign assistance guidelines, for example, poor people in a generally impoverished country can be helped; equally poor people in a better off country cannot. If this pattern continues, by 1980 U.S. bilateral assistance will be unavailable to most of the countries of Latin America.

Vital human rights are at stake. Aggregate GNP figures fail to reflect the poverty of high infant mortality, disease, illiteracy and inferior housing. More than 100 million Latin Americans are forced to subsist on less than $200 per year.

Assistance policies that cut off help to the poor because some of their fellow citizens live too well, like those that deny help to the poor because their governments are repressive, create an ironic paradox: if we decide to confine our assistance only to those developing nations that are at once desperately poor and models of enlightened democracy, we risk crippling our ability to contribute to socio-economic development in Latin America.

In the developing world, the predicament of the “middle-income” country is often very much like that of the middle-income American taxpayer. And Latin America is increasingly the region in the middle: too “rich” to receive aid, not strong enough to play a decisive role in shaping events.

Without some degree of outside support in times of financial difficulties, even the relatively advanced developing countries of Latin America will be hindered in carrying out reforms to narrow the gap between rich and poor and meet the needs of all their people.

In the long run, of course, the development issue is not properly one of assistance as it has been traditionally defined. At least in this hemisphere, both sides in the North-South dialogue agree that development hinges on trade, not outside aid. Both we and the Latin Americans [Page 109] need expanding markets for exports, stable prices, and a voice in international economic decisions. We have made realistic proposals to help stabilize commodity prices. We have encouraged greater utilization of the Generalized System of Preferences for developing countries.

It is true that increased domestic demands for import protection have increased concern abroad that new trade restrictions may limit future growth. However, few petitions for import relief under the Trade Act have resulted in actions adversely affecting Latin American products. Moreover, to regain momentum toward increased trade, we are vigorously supporting the Multilateral Trade Negotiations. The Tropical Products Agreement with Mexico, worked out in the context of the MTN this past year, is a model of mutual benefit.

In the last analysis, our ability to pursue a credible course on the whole range of developmental and economic issues will depend, not on the intentions of any one Administration, but on the commitment and priorities of the American people. The growing impact of foreign policy on local communities often means in the short term that domestic and foreign policy objectives will be perceived to be more sharply in conflict.

Increasing public understanding of the full implications of issues such as these is one area where all of you in this room can be particularly helpful.

This need to increase public understanding of how foreign policy affects local communities brings me to the last point I want to discuss with you tonight. It is the importance of making governmental relationships a coherent part of a much wider spectrum of cooperative private relations among our societies.

During the past year, we have, of course, continued to deal with many of the traditional problems of inter-American relations. For example, to preserve the peace, we have increased our support for the dispute settlement efforts of the Organization of American States in Central America and other potential trouble-spots. And we have made nuclear non-proliferation and conventional arms restraint key elements of our hemispheric policy. Our decision last spring to reverse past policies and support the Nuclear Free Zone in Latin America and the Caribbean gives us new credibility in seeking peaceful nuclear cooperation with other hemispheric nations.

It is nonetheless increasingly apparent that the new issues—such as the flow of narcotics—are ones in which many more citizens have a direct interest than in the past. To reduce the narcotics traffic that destroys so many young American lives, we have in recent years sought the cooperation of many Latin American governments. To ease the human costs of foreign imprisonment, we have implemented a prisoner exchange program with Mexico, and are developing similar programs [Page 110] elsewhere. To resolve differences over migration, we are working with Mexico to relieve unemployment pressures on both sides of the border.

As these few examples demonstrate, our society and those of Latin America now interact in too many ways for government to monoplize the message. This trend is increasing. It is foolish to deny it and unnecessary to fear it.

The new challenges are ones that an open, multidimensional society like the United States is best equipped to meet. And they are challenges I am convinced most Latin Americans are prepared to meet with us.

Already we are seeing many U.S. companies and multinational enterprises respond to changing realities in Latin American societies, sometimes faster than either governments or intellectuals. Most American businesses abroad now maintain healthy and constructive relationships with their host countries, contributing to the development of the entrepreneurial skills and productive activities essential to our mutual well-being.

It has not been generally noticed, but in providing for a generation of partnership based on increasing Panamanian participation in the management of the Canal, the new Panama Canal Treaties reflect a practice that is already widely followed in the inter-American business community, where joint ventures and local managers are increasingly common.

The times call for similar creative and responsible problem-solving at all levels of our communities. They call for intellectual dialogue to strengthen common institutions and to encourage broad-based leadership in all our societies.

Drawing fully on the hemisphere’s basic wealth—its people—is a major challenge to our press and our universities, and to institutions—like this Center—which already understand that writers like Borges of Argentina, Fuentes of Mexico and Vargas Llosa of Peru are also giants of our own culture.

As our own society changes, government too must awaken. Government can move far beyond present efforts in facilitating academic, technical and cultural exchanges, including in them minorities and other groups not previously tapped for such programs. It can build on the many contacts that take place in the world of business. It can, in sum, help bring the many persons dedicated to improving hemispheric relations together with the even greater numbers dedicated to resolving local community problems. It is time they met.

I am encouraged to know that you will be an active partner in that effort.

Thank you very much.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Records of Cyrus Vance, Secretary of State, 1977–80, Lot 84D241, Human Rights. No classification marking. Todman spoke before members of the Center for Inter-American Relations.
  2. Reference is to Carter’s Pan American Day speech at the Organization of American States on April 14, 1977. See footnote 3, Document 5.
  3. An unknown hand crossed out the word “have” and replaced it with the word “has.”
  4. See footnote 2, Document 23.
  5. An unknown hand highlighted this paragraph and underlined, “without interfering in a nation’s internal affairs, and while maintaining the constructive working relations necessary to advance all our many objectives”
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