27. Editorial Note

Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Terence Todman’s February 14, 1978, speech (see Document 26) engendered reaction and commentary from inside the Department of State, from governments abroad, and from the press.

In a February 17 memorandum for the files, Director of Policy Planning for Public and Congressional Affairs Luigi Einaudi wrote that the speech was followed by a question-and-answer (Q&A) session, which the memorandum for the files reconstructed. Questioners asked Todman about Nicaragua, Brazil, Argentina, Belize, the Beagle Channel, Panama, Cuba, and Chile. (National Archives, RG 59, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Records of Cyrus Vance, Secretary of State, 1977–80, Lot 84D241, Human Rights) Einaudi’s reconstruction of the Q&A session was transmitted to all American Republic diplomatic posts as telegram 44242, February 21. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780078–0295)

The Embassies in Managua, Montevideo, Asunción, and Buenos Aires reported on local press and government reaction to the speech. The Embassy in Managua reported on February 15 that the “Somoza family newspaper Novedades” published a “banner headline ‘Sandinistas Provoke Violence, Todman Says,” and quoted the translation of Todman’s answer to a question on Nicaragua as printed in the newspaper. The Embassy requested that the Department send “text of Todman comment (which, article indicates, was in response to question) and any clarification which we may use here ASAP.” (Telegram 786 from Managua, February 15; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780070–0397) The Department responded on February 16 that the quotes attributed to Todman “are incomplete and garbled, evidently intentionally. Todman did not enter into detail about who did what or how.” In addition, the Department advised, “Embassy should avoid being drawn into polemics.” (Telegram 41418 to Managua, February 16; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780072–0462)

On February 15, the Embassy in Montevideo reported: “All Montevideo media gave prominent, heavy play to Assistant Secretary Todman’s speech at the Center of Inter-American Relations, stressing his advocacy of ‘a more moderate, balanced, and realistic’ U.S. campaign on human rights.” The Embassy also noted, “Not surprisingly, the pro-government media has picked up and emphasized these and other aspects of the Todman statement which serve to prove the GOU’s arguments on human rights and have been similarly selective in their use of human rights comments Todman made to the press following [Page 112] the formal address.” (Telegram 533 from Montevideo, February 15; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780070–0236)

The Embassy in Asunción reported on February 17: “The speech of Assistant Secretary Todman to the Center for Inter-American Relations has had a great impact here. A morning headline reads ‘Todman severely criticizes human rights policy of Carter.’ The government is jubilant.” Ambassador Robert E. White reported, “All government officials with whom we have spoken are unanimous in their praise of the Todman speech.” In addition, he stated, “Those in Paraguay who have supported our position on human rights have expressed themselves in the strongest terms. An internationally known scientist said the speech was a ‘tragic event.’ An opposition leader who faces a prison term on a trumped up charge came to the Embassy and told us that ‘if this is the new policy of the United States, there is no hope.’” White concluded, “If the Department has any guidance which would assist me in lessening the disastrous effects of the interpretations being placed on this speech, I could make instant use of them.” (Telegram 679 from Asunción, February 17; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780076–0674)

On February 24, the Embassy in Buenos Aires reported: “Assistant Secretary Todman’s Latin America policy speech received wide coverage and editorial comment in the local press, with initial emphasis placed on ten points cautioning US response on human rights. Subsequent distribution and publication of full text largely cleared up misconceptions that speech meant other than firm commitment to existing human rights policy. Human rights groups were distressed that speech could be and was used to suggest US backing away on human rights.” (Telegram 1406 from Buenos Aires, February 24; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780088–0064)

In telegram 45684 to all American Republic diplomatic posts, February 22, the Department advised: “In some areas press is distorting speech as change in criticism of President Carter’s human rights policy. Distortion has occurred where listing of types of action we should avoid has been misinterpreted as criticism of the conduct of the policy. There has been no—repeat—no change in human rights policy,” and “there is no basis for construing speech as criticism of the human rights policy.” The Department instructed, “Where press, official or private opinion has picked up line that there is change in human rights policy or criticism of such policy you should move forcefully to counter it.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780082–0791)

On March 2, The Christian Science Monitor reported that the speech “has sparked controversy in the State Department over how the administration should pursue President Carter’s human-rights policy,” that “a number of State Department officials have criticized the speech,” [Page 113] with those officials “arguing that it put too much emphasis on restraint and amounted to a brake on implementation of the rights policy,” and that it “may have sent the wrong ‘signal’ to some Latin American countries.” (Daniel Southerland, “Rights Policy Speech Highlights State Department Split,” The Christian Science Monitor, March 2, 1978, p. 3)