284. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Jaime Roldos, President-elect of Ecuador
  • Horacio Sevilla-Borja, Charge d’Affairs
  • Alfredo Pareja Diez-Canseco, Advisor to President-elect
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor
  • Robert Pastor, NSC Staff
  • Viron Vaky, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs
  • Ambassador Raymond E. Gonzalez, US Ambassador to Ecuador
  • Tony Hervas, Interpreter

Dr. Brzezinski and President-elect Roldos began their conversation talking about Roldos’s election and the new constitution in Ecuador. (C)

Dr. Brzezinski congratulated Roldos for his election and expressed the happiness of the United States on the successful return to democratic government in Ecuador. (C)

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Roldos explained that the new constitution allows only one term for a President; there is no possibility of re-election. He said that Ecuador would have to determine the practical effects of this provision in the future. He explained that the new constitution would permit the President to veto a measure passed by Congress, but a national referendum could override the President’s Act. The new constitution will come into effect on August 10. It is Ecuador’s seventeenth constitution since 1830, but he hopes the new constitution will be practicable and will endure. (C)

Dr. Brzezinski said that the United States hopes that with the election of Roldos, the democratic process throughout Latin America will be given added impetus. He said that President Carter is looking forward to meeting with Mr. Roldos, and regrets that he does not have much time.2 (C)

Dr. Brzezinski then explained the new directions that President Carter and Secretary Vance have tried to establish for US policy to Latin America and the Caribbean. The Administration has tried to develop a formula that is responsive to the changes that have occurred in the Hemisphere and in the world. The new approach has been based on three basic propositions:

1. Non-intervention. This Administration is committed not to intervene in the internal affairs of Latin American and Caribbean countries. That is a major change from preceeding administrations; and it can, of course, produce transitory problems. (C)

2. Support for democratic forces. This Administration is committed to human rights and democratization. It will lend its support to democratic processes, as in Ecuador. (C)

3. No single formula. This Administration has adopted a more flexible approach to the bilateral, regional, and global concerns of the nations in this Hemisphere. We no longer have a single formula for dealing with the entire region. We recognize the diversity and the complexity of each country and of our relationship. We have deliberately avoided the temptation to adopt a single slogan to define our approach. We view Latin America as diverse a region as Europe and Asia, and one that therefore should not be subordinated to any single formula. (C)

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Dr. Brzezinski said that we hoped that our support for democratic forces and for non-intervention will help promote the development of pluralistic societies, particularly where there has not been any in the past, for example in Central America. This might mean that we will have to go through a difficult transitional phase, and events in Nicaragua represented a disturbing example of this problem. The US wants to avoid a situation in which the collapse of right wing dictatorships is automatically seen as a victory for the extreme left or for Cuba. We don’t view it that way. Rather, we see that social change is occurring throughout the Americas, that more people can take advantage of education and health facilities. People are increasingly determined to participate in the political and social process. This Administration does not see any reason why progressive forces in Central America should not become the logical successors to reactionary or right-wing governments. Indeed, the Carter Administration is prepared to help promote these changes through economic and technical assistance and through symbolic support. (C)

Dr. Brzezinski said that the primary responsibility for the changes must be in each country itself, and secondarily in its neighbors. The United States does not feel it has the right or the ability to dictate or control these changes. (C)

Dr. Brzezinski said that the United States sees in Roldos personally and more generally in the recent democratic changes in Ecuador the alternative between right-wing dictatorships of the past and left-wing totalitarian regimes of the present. Anything that the United States can do to be helpful, we will do. But leadership for this effort must come from Latin America itself. The US wants to be helpful, but believes that during this historical transition, the leadership should be in Latin America’s hands. (C)

President-elect Roldos said that he was extremely pleased by Dr. Brzezinski’s statement. The criteria and principles of non-intervention and the right of people to select their own governments are fundamental and will allow all of us in the Americas to proceed in a framework of ideological pluralism and democratic government. The principle of subordination and dependency, which has characterized inter-American relations in the past, should now be replaced by cooperation and friendship and mutual respect. This is vital for the progress of the Ecuadoran people and also for its relationship with other countries. Ecuador wants to build a society based on its institutions. Democracy cannot be imposed from the outside. Ecuador is an alternative example where there was a direct replacement of a dictatorship by a democratic government. In comparing Ecuador and Nicaragua, two countries which have recently emerged from dictatorship, the conditions are so different that it is difficult to draw a general conclusion. In Ecuador [Page 820] the change has occurred peacefully and with free elections. But in both countries we must move to try to strengthen democratic forces. (C)

Yesterday, during his conversation with Secretary Vance, Roldos discussed the economic potential of Ecuador, but also the tremendous need for the economy to be mobilized by access to soft loans, for example.3 It is important that people can see that democracy is not just an idea but is also a system which works for the betterment of its people. This will require specific and important decisions on redistribution of income, on health facilities, on education, etc. (C)

Dr. Brzezinski expressed the importance of the US and Ecuador being able to reach a trade agreement as a way to enhance the cooperation between the two countries. (C)

Roldos said that he hopes that will occur because democracy is not just a political problem; it is a social and economic problem. To the extent that we can advance solutions, we could avoid political obstacles or roadblocks. (C)

Dr. Brzezinski asked whether Roldos expected any shift in the emphasis or in the direction of Ecuador’s foreign policy during his leadership. (C)

Roldos said that his country’s foreign policy will be guided by certain principles, including non-intervention, ideological pluralism, human rights, juridical equality among states, closer relations with countries with which it shares these interests, and normal relations with all countries. Yesterday, he told Secretary Vance about his desire to send technical specialists to visit the US in the first month of his administration to discuss financing and technical cooperation among our two countries.4 He also raised another issue of great concern—the transfer of a naval vessel, a destroyer. (C)

Ambassador Vaky explained that the issue concerned a destroyer which the Navy wanted to transfer to Ecuador. Congress expressed [Page 821] its unwillingness to release the vessel from the US Navy at this time. In answer to a question about the importance and the urgency of this issue by Dr. Brzezinski, Roldos said that he will have to assess its real importance. (C)

Dr. Brzezinski promised that he would look into it, to see whether it would be possible to disaggregate the general problem and come to a specific resolution.5 (C)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Brzezinski Office File, Country Chron File, Box 10, Ecuador. Confidential. Drafted by Pastor on August 2. The meeting took place in Brzezinski’s office. Pastor sent a copy of the memorandum to Brzezinski under an August 2 covering memorandum, noting “I continue to believe as I did right after the meeting that your brief remarks on our policy to Latin America and the way it relates to global change represent an important statement. I think it would be useful to use that as a basis for a broader public statement either by you or the President.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Pastor, Country Files, Ecuador, 1-12/79) Dodson sent a copy of the memorandum and a copy of the memorandum of conversation between Carter and Roldos (see footnote 2 below) to Tarnoff under an August 7 covering memorandum, requesting that Tarnoff “make appropriate distribution.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850183-1082)
  2. Carter met with Roldos in the Oval Office immediately after this meeting with Brzezinski. Carter congratulated Roldos on his election and said “that the democratization process in Ecuador was a matter of great importance to the United States,” and that “the United States would like to consult with him on a continual basis on matters relating to Central America and to other nations, both with respect to problems and also to opportunities.” (Memorandum of Conversation, 10:45–10:55 a.m.; Ibid.)
  3. Vance met with Roldos on July 19th at noon in the Secretary’s office. (Memorandum of Conversation; Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Pastor, Country Files, Box 20, Ecuador, 1-12/79) In his July 19 Evening Report to Carter, Vance summarized his meeting with Roldos. (Carter Library, Carter Presidential Papers, Staff Offices, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Evening Reports (State), 7/79) (S) Vaky, Gonzalez and ARA personnel discussed Central America with Roldos at the Department on July 19th at 2 p.m. (Memorandum of Conversation; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850183-1048)
  4. In addition to informing Vance of his plan to send a commission to the United States early in his presidency “to explore investment, technology transfer and related subjects,” Roldos assured participants in the meeting “that the climate for business operations will be favorable during his five-year term of office,” and that “Ecuador of course is interested in both its private and public sectors.” See footnote 3, above. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Pastor, Country Files, Ecuador, 1-12/79)
  5. In an August 7 memorandum to Brzezinski prepared in advance of a Vance, Brown, and Brzezinski lunch, Pastor confirmed that DOD was attempting to work with Congress to transfer a Navy destroyer to Ecuador. (Carter Library, Carter Presidential Papers, Staff Offices, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Luncheon Meetings (BBV), 4-8/79) In telegram 208987 to Quito, August 11, the Department reported that the destroyers “are not now available because the House Appropriations Committee Defense Subcommittee is insisting that they be retained in the US Navy Reserve.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790364-0040)