30. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Summary of First Multilateral Meeting in Panama


  • President Jimmy Carter
  • Andrew Young, U.S. Representative to the U.N.
  • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Warren Christopher, Deputy Secretary of State
  • Terence Todman, Assistant Secretary of State
  • William Jorden, U.S. Ambassador to Panama
  • Jody Powell, Press Secretary
  • Robert A. Pastor, NSC Staff Member (note taker)
  • President Carlos Andres Perez, Venezuela
  • Simon Consalvi Bottaro, Minister of Foreign Affairs for Venezuela
  • President Alfonso Lopez Michelsen, Colombia
  • Virgilio Barco, Colombian Ambassador to the U.S.
  • President Rodrigo Carazo, Costa Rica
  • Rafael Angel Calderon Fournier, Minister of Foreign Relations for Costa Rica
  • Prime Minister Michael Manley, Jamaica
  • P. J. Patterson, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Tourism for Jamaica
  • Omar Torrijos, Chief of Government, Panama
  • Nicolas Gonzalez Revilla, Minister of Foreign Relations for Panama
  • Other members of other governments’ delegation attended but are not identified.

Torrijos opened the meeting by noting that it was a timely and propitious occasion to exchange ideas frankly. There are problems which cannot be postponed. In discussions among the six countries’ leaders, we should hope to find a design which will eventually lead to a solution to these problems.

Human Rights

Carazo said that all present had governments which aspired to a full application of the concept of human rights. Carazo referred to the San Jose Pact (the American Convention on Human Rights) which was signed on November 22, 1969 and would, when it enters into force, establish a supreme court on human rights matters. At his inauguration, [Page 126] he proposed to the whole hemisphere the need to complete ratification of the Convention and establish this body. He expressed concern that only eight nations have ratified the convention, with three more needed to bring it into effect. He suggested that there are three countries represented by their leaders around the table who had not ratified it. Finally, he proposed his country as the site of the future court.

Perez jokingly suggested that we look to the countries to the north of Costa Rica for future ratification of the Convention.

Carter said that we have signed the Convention, but not yet ratified it.2

Manley said that Jamaica had signed and was preparing legislation that would secure its ratification.

Carter said that he would be delivering the opening address to the Organization of American States General Assembly, and he planned to ask other nations to expedite ratification.3 He promised to do the same but doubted that the US would ratify this year.

Perez suggested that we draw up a list of all those countries that have signed and ratified, as well as those that haven’t.

Torrijos said Panama had already ratified it, but had not yet deposited the instrument of ratification.

Carter suggested that Torrijos help him to persuade U.S. Senators to ratify it since Torrijos knows the Senators better than Carter does. Carter also noted that Chile had invited the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to visit their country.

Perez said that we would celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights this December. He suggested that December would be an ideal time for a ceremony to bring the American Convention into force, and the ideal place would be Costa Rica. He suggested again that we would do well to start the human rights activities on the northern border of Costa Rica. Perez then suggested that instead of issuing a formal declaration by Chiefs of State at the end of the two multilateral meetings, a press statement which summarized those points on which agreement was reached, could be issued. As the first point, he suggested that we should urge that all countries in the hemisphere ratify the Convention on Human Rights, that it should be on the 30th Anniversary of the universal declaration on human rights, and that San Jose should be the site of the next inter-American Court on Human Rights.

[Page 127]

Carazo volunteered to prepare a draft for consideration.4


Carter suggested that another item to be considered in this press statement would be the completion of the Treaty of Tlatelolco on non-proliferation. Argentina had promised to ratify the Treaty and should be pressed to do so. He said that making Latin America a nuclear free zone would be a perfect example for others, in other regions and in other areas. He had referred to it in his conversations with Indian Prime Minister Desai.5

Perez suggested that one of the problems in bringing Tlatelolco into effect is that Brazil is afraid of Argentina. He then suggested that each of the Heads of State around the table address themselves separately and privately to President Videla and urge him to sign (sic) Tlatelolco.

Carter asked Prime Minister Manley whether he could induce the Cubans to sign the Treaties.

Manley said that he was unsure.

Perez said that he had read a statement that Castro had said Cuba did not feel obligated to sign, but if others did, they might.

Michelsen6 changed the subject and said they were talking about very sensitive matters and it was very important that certain things be kept secret. He argued that the right of information is a human right, just as not to give information is also a right. Confidential matters should not be publicly disseminated. We should all be extremely careful that this doesn’t happen. He was very concerned about leaks that came from the U.S. Lopez said that he was particularly disturbed that the political campaign in his country was affected by the divulgation of confidential matters. He said that this case was not the only one and Colombia was not alone in this regard.

Perez jokingly interjected, “Don’t look at me.”

Michelsen said that diplomatic documents should not be within the reach of the press. This is extremely destructive of good inter-American relations. He offered this as a “last testament”, since he will be leaving office shortly.

Lopez said he thought that the Soviet Union could induce Cuba to sign Tlatelolco. Lopez said that he would be in Cuba on July 26, the [Page 128] anniversary of Cuba’s revolution, and that he would be happy to bring this issue to the attention of Castro at that time.

President Carter said that he didn’t know the origin of the documents to which Lopez Michelsen referred. He explained that the press in the U.S. had absolute freedom, and we cannot have as much secrecy as we would like. He expressed his deepest apologies to President Lopez and also to President Perez for any embarrassment that the press may have caused them. He also thanked President Lopez for offering to convey the concerns of the others on Tlatelolco to Castro.

President Carter said that we now have communication with the Cuban government, and he will repeat the request for ratification of Tlatelolco through these channels.7 This is a very important message.

Arms Restraint and the Southern Cone

President Carter said another important issue is the sale and acquisition of conventional weapons. He explained the U.S. policy to try to reduce the total sales of arms. He complimented President Perez for his work and his initiatives in this area.

President Perez said that what Lopez Michelsen said is of great importance because we live constantly fearful of manipulation by the news. There are strange hands in the U.S. that go into the file cabinets and leak the secret information they find there. He said that, for example, someone from the State Department once came down to speak to him as well as to President Lopez, and to ask them not to hold a meeting that they were going to hold with Cuba. When the incident leaked to the press, Perez and Lopez had to hasten the meeting. This kind of leak is bad because it affects our relations with one another, makes one cautious about what is said, and also greatly affects our actions, often making us do things we would prefer not to do.

He said that he was not hurt, but anguished.

Referring to conventional weapons sales, he said that it affected the economy of countries concerned. The problem of weapons sales has more to do oftentimes with the seller than with the buyer. He said he was astonished to hear President Giscard’s representative had asked in a major speech at the United Nations for the countries of the world to shift their funds from arms to economic development, and then one week later he read in the paper that France had sold $10 billion to Saudi Arabia.

It is not possible to wage this battle against arms sales alone. If we can get the right attitude from salesmen, that would be extremely helpful. He spoke of a respected Venezuelan industrialist, who had [Page 129] been visited in Puerto Rico by U.S. arms salesmen, asking him to be the arms representative in Venezuela. The Venezuelan was told that he would be given a 5 percent commission, 3 percent for himself, and 2 percent to use as he wished. Perez summed it up by saying that the LDC’s are being manipulated in this business. A way must be found to put an end to the permanent stimulation of weapons sales, because whatever poor countries do, they will fail unless the sellers agree not to sell.

Perez said that at the OAS meeting, the members of the Ayacucho group will sign an agreement on arms control, and then try to expand this agreement to include all the countries of Latin America. But the efforts of the U.S. are needed with arms producers for if there is no agreement among the producers, then there is little that the buyers can do.

President Carter said that we have not only taken actions on our own, but also have talked with the USSR. The French have not been willing to participate up till now, as they are waiting to see how we do in our discussions with the Russians. But he is determined to hold down the sale of arms internationally. He explained the process by which arms are sold abroad, and said that permission must be obtained from the State Department first and that he is personally approving all sales. It is a slow process. He had hoped that the Special Session on Disarmament8 would be able to find a program that would work. To President Perez, Carter said that he would certainly follow up on his advice. However, he believes that the initiative should come from Latin America, because we do not want to appear as if we are preaching to the Latin Americans on this issue.

General Torrijos referred to two causes of this predicament. The apparent cause is that nations arm for expansionist or for defensive purposes. Why are they doing it? How much of their budget is being spent on defense matters? How much is being used to serve the people? We must also look for the real causes behind arms races. Certain armed forces magnify the problem in order to justify themselves. If the cause of war disappears, then the military government cannot justify its purchases to its own people or to the world. Could we impose certain kinds of sanctions or deny loans as an incentive to get military governments to stop their purchases of weapons? The real effect of arms sales is to negate development. Torrijos then commented on the fact that Panama is often the bridge through which many outside groups can travel. He has talked with leaders of such groups, and they complained about the excessive military burden of their governments.

[Page 130]

President Lopez Michelsen said that it is very difficult to condemn the countries who deal with weapons because the arms business is part of their own defense system; arms exports are used as a way of subsidizing domestic defense. This won’t be solved at this meeting. In inter-American relations, this is not a problem for the countries represented at this meeting. The problem is south of the equator, and that is because of the War of the Pacific, and of differences with regard to Bolivia’s desire for access to the sea. Lopez suggested that they discuss ways to “cure the infection” by mediating specifically with regard to Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Bolivia. We should call for patient action, because that would eliminate all the problems.

President Perez said that he was in total agreement. The crisis in the Southern Cone is becoming more serious. He said that the problem of Bolivia is at the center of the problem of weapons purchases in the region. Peru has just bought some Soviet airplanes, and he had read of the severe criticism in the United States because they used U.S. airports for refueling. He said that Venezuela had encouraged Peru to stop purchasing weapons, and he had said the same to Chile as well. He said that we should offer not mediation, but cooperation. He proposed that representatives of the six governments around the table send confidential communications to the three nations—Bolivia, Peru, and Chile—telling them that we would be willing to offer cooperation to settle their dispute. In the case of the Ayacucho countries, all the parties accepted the fact that the problem existed, and that would be an advantage.

Perez suggested that all of the Presidents attempt the same approach with regard to Belize, so that independence would not have to be delayed. The problem, as he saw it, was to help Guatemala and Belize find a solution which would permit Belizean independence, while at the same time allowing some room for Guatemala to save face and accept independence. Perez was concerned that a solution to the Belizean problem was necessary to avoid severe repercussions in the Caribbean.

President Carazo spoke as the leader of a country with no arms purchases. He was anguished to learn that since World War II, conventional weapons have caused more than a hundred wars. The purchase of weapons was disastrous on a country’s economic development program. At the heart, he believed it was a problem of attitudes and of military governments. In other words, the demand factor. He was disturbed that illicit trade in arms had been found in Costa Rica. He proposed that regional agencies be established to wage an intense campaign to stop the purchasing of weapons. The only way not to do something, Carazo said, is not to do it at all. Don’t buy any weapons. Thirty years ago, Costa Rica took this decision, and he would hope that other countries would do likewise.

[Page 131]

President Carter referred to the problem of illicit payments which President Perez had noted. The United Nations is presently discussing this issue, and the U.S. would like support for negotiations for a new treaty. Carter thought Costa Rica had good luck in not purchasing weapons. This is an excellent example for other countries and regions and he congratulated Costa Rica. However, the U.S. has different responsibilities in the world. Yet the big objective of the United States is to prevent the spread of all weapons.

Prime Minister Manley noted that this was an enormous and complex problem, that Jamaica has tried to use its influence to dissuade buyers and sellers. He said moderation in arms purchases should be rewarded by the transfer of more economic resources. If there could be a significant shift of resources to development, then countries would see the real importance and benefits of slowing arms purchases.

President Carter said we would do all we could to support the Caribbean Group, which has 30 nations and 15 international institutions and will be meeting in Washington next week. We should do all we can to help it. To the extent that there is restraint on arms purchases, we would try to be helpful in the economic area. He noted that President Perez and Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada had tried to be helpful. He hoped we could get the Federal Republic of Germany to do likewise. He felt that progress was being made in this area.

President Perez suggested that this would be another good subject for the press statement. He suggested that the leaders say that armamentism was of great concern to all the countries. An important effort was being made by the Ayacucho countries, and it was hoped that this effort could be broadened to include all of Latin America. He said that although not for the communique, the leaders should extend their cooperation not mediation to Peru, Bolivia, and Chile and to Belize and Guatemala. The idea of contributing to finding a point of agreement between Guatemala and Belize is an important one. If we offer our cooperation, we can find a solution. He thought something could be offered to Guatemala, which would not humiliate Belize.


Perez referred to President Carter’s mention of the Caribbean Group. He confessed that he was indignant to learn in the press that the West was planning to establish a Pan-African force and a $2 billion Pan-African fund, while at the same time it was impossible to get money for the Caribbean Group. He warned that small nations in the Caribbean would fill the vacuum with political or economic mafias. He noted that Vesco was thinking of settling in Grenada. This could happen if we don’t assume a responsibility to work for a Caribbean plan and to contribute our resources to it. He said that President Carter [Page 132] has taken this issue up with enthusiasm, and has been trying to gain support from other countries, but few have helped. If there are not enough funds contributed to this group, then it might be better not to have it at all. Perez said that he had offered $30 million to this new fund, provided that it be 10 percent of the total value of the fund. He suggested that there be $300 million per year over five years—a total of $1.5 billion. This would change the present conditions in the Caribbean. The only important thing is that the plan should point to the economic integration of the region. The problems are very serious, and all of us need to contribute. However, he was not optimistic.

Carter said that the press has erroneously reported that the United States was considering a Pan-African force. It was not true. All that the United States did was to transport soldiers, food and equipment to Zaire and help stabilize the situation in Shaba.9 We have not asked for a Pan-African force, and we would not participate in one which did more than just this effort.

In arms control, the United States has a firm policy. We do not introduce new types of weapons or permit an escalation of weapons sales. We sell a smaller percentage every year, and we hope others will join in our effort. We are now in fifth place in arms sales to the region. It is very important also that Tlatelolco be concluded. We think, furthermore, that the example should be expanded and extended to other areas.

Carazo said less investment in arms permits more investment for development. However, once a country advances, then the terms for securing loans and other assistance becomes harder than for those who invested in arms and did not advance. So a country is punished for focussing on development instead of on arms.

Michelsen complimented Carazo for his approach to the problem. He added, however, that conflicts often come from arms sales rather than purchases. Colombia supports the Caribbean Development Bank, but the problem is not of aid, but of market and price for commodities. What the Caribbean needs is the market for the sugar. Coffee producers have a similar problem. When the economic situation is not dealt with, we will not have a problem of arms purchases by governments; the problem will be one of smuggling in weapons to the peasants as a result of growing political instability. Take the case of coffee. If there is a frost in Brazil it will create an unprecedented rise in the price of coffee; if there is no frost, then there will be a severe drop in the prices. The price should not be allowed to depend on whether or not there is [Page 133] frost. Because of such violent swings in commodity prices, the situation in Latin America could become as bad as that of Africa. You don’t have to be a Marxist to recognize the relationship between economic instability and weapons purchases. He had asked President Carter in September that we not wait until the economic situation grows so badly that a catastrophe occurs.10 Let’s try to agree now to establish a fair price. The coffee agreement is temporarily suspended, but we should not wait. If the U.S. would implement the coffee legislation, and apply quotas and stabilize prices at a timely date, he was sure that if the group met again in one more year they would spend much less time discussing weapons and economic assistance. These agreements would restore this kind of stability. The situation in these countries, in Lopez’s words, “is not correctable by just warm washcloths.”

Perez said Lopez Michelsen had mentioned a most serious point. He referred again to the press statement, and suggested that another item to be included in it should be the Caribbean Group meeting which would be held on the 19th in Washington. We should state our full support for the Caribbean Group. He added two additional items which he believed should be in that press statement. First, the Coffee Agreement which was one of the few good things which began with the Alliance for Progress, has remained, and should not die. If the Senate does not ratify the Coffee Agreement soon, the whole agreement will die because over 50 percent of the coffee exports go to the United States. Perez said that the press statement should express our great concern over this Coffee Agreement. A second problem, of course, is the International Sugar Agreement and the extremely low price of sugar, and the signs of protectionism in the U.S. We should mention our concern about this as well.

Carter responded by saying that he would not be disturbed for the group to express its concern about the stabilization of market prices. He noted, however, that the U.S. is a large producer of sugar and U.S. producers had to be protected. He repeated his concern about the importance of the multilateral trade negotiations as an effective vehicle for reforming world trade; and noted that many of the countries represented around the table are not members of GATT.

Responding to the more specific points made by President Perez, President Carter explained that we have intense feelings within the United States among the farmers of sugar and the ranchers of beef, and their Congressmen are deeply committed to protecting the cost of production. We have tried to get the International Sugar Agreement ratified, and the President has resisted efforts to raise the price of sugar. [Page 134] He concluded by saying that he has no objections to the expression of concern.

Manley noted that it would be very useful if the International Sugar Agreement could be ratified soon and asked what were the prospects.

Carter said that Senator Church, who is accompanying the President, is extremely active in sugar policy, and is a firm advocate of higher sugar prices, perhaps as much as 17 cents. He said that he would be meeting with Senator Long next week, and Senator Long represents sugar cane producers, which are not always the most efficient. He pledged, in conclusion, that he will do the best he can to get the International Sugar Agreement ratified and to keep sugar prices down. By the time of the O.A.S. meeting, he said that he might have a clear picture, and he would try to relay that to the nations. He said that the problem is that the Senate is far behind its schedule right now as the result of the Canal Treaties, and he is uncertain whether they will have time to look at these additional agreements. Nevertheless, he reiterated his complete commitment to ratification without delay.

Michelsen put the discussion on commodity price stabilization in a broader context. He said that producing countries hurt themselves in the long term by excessively high prices because housewives inevitably reduce their consumption or change to substitutes, for example, from coffee to soft drinks, from sugar to corn sugars. Therefore, it’s important not to force too high a price; indeed, it is in both interests to try to establish fair and reasonable prices.

Perez agreed with President Lopez Michelsen. Since President Carazo would be leaving after this session, Perez suggested a few additional items to be included in the press statement so that Carazo could agree with it today. On the Dominican Republic, he said that we should express our satisfaction with the electoral process in a very discreet way which would make it easier for Balaguer to resist the pressure which he is feeling from those who would like to reverse the elections.11

Carter interjected that he believed that the certification of the final election results would be coming in one day.

Perez said that a discreet statement would help overcome any difficulties that might arise in the near future.

Carter agreed, saying that we should encourage the completion of the electoral process in the Dominican Republic as well as elsewhere.

Manley said that the meeting they were holding presented the leaders with a historical opportunity to try to press along several outstanding disputes. He suggested that the group offer cooperation which [Page 135] might lead to a resolution of the Guatemala-Belize problem. He suggested that the leaders develop a simple plan to offer cooperation on this. This could be one concrete accomplishment of this meeting. It would be preferable not to publicize the means by which the group would cooperate to help resolve the dispute, but it would be useful to begin to do that.

Perez said the decisions on Belize and the Andean tensions should be kept confidential.12

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 36, Memcons: President, 6–7/78. Confidential. The meeting was held in the El Panama Hotel.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 10.
  3. June 21. See footnote 2, Document 31.
  4. See footnote 11, Document 29.
  5. The memoranda of conversation between Carter and Desai are scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XIX, South Asia.
  6. Colombian President Alfonso López Michelsen is referred to as López, Michelsen, and López Michelsen throughout the memorandum of conversation.
  7. Not found.
  8. May–June 1978.
  9. Reference is to the mid-May 1978 invasion of Angola-based Katangan separatists into Zaire’s Shaba province.
  10. See Document 244.
  11. See Foreign Relations, 1977–81, vol. XX, Mexico, Cuba, and the Caribbean, Document 235.
  12. In a second multilateral meeting on June 17, Carter, Perez, López Michelsen, Manley, Torrijos, and Calderón discussed the North-South dialogue, trade negotiations, and the economic issues facing LDCs. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 36, Memcons: President, 6–7/78)