321. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Uruguay1

278192. Subject: Deputy Secretary Christopher’s Meeting With Wilson Ferreira. Ref: MVD 5079.2

1. Former Senator Wilson Ferreira, accompanied by his son Juan Raul, met with the Deputy Secretary on November 15. Mr. Christopher began with the statement that this appointment was consistent with our policy of sharing views with all people and groups interested in positive improvements in human rights. It was not being held in a spirit of hostility towards the GOU. We value our relations with Uruguay and want to see an improvement in the human rights practices of that Government. We have made known our concerns to the GOU on several occasions.

2. Mr. Christopher then stated that our human rights concerns look broadly to three categories of rights: rights of the person; economic and social rights; and political and civil rights. While none of these categories had absolute priority, we had tended to concentrate in the case of Uruguay on personal rights and on a return to democratic [Page 913] government. In this connection, we are working as effectively as we can, and we are hopeful that our efforts will bear some success.

3. Wilson Ferreira replied that it did not bother him that we felt no hostility towards the GOU because his hostility was sufficient for both. He stated that he did not intend to dwell on the details of human rights violations in Uruguay, as these were well known. Mr. Christopher agreed that the real issue was what our policy direction should be, rather than recounting past events. Ferreira continued that the prisoner issue was not the great problem. While, physically, prisoner conditions remain bad, the situation is worse in Argentina and Chile. Ferreira added that torture had in fact diminished.

4. The fundamental problem, according to Ferreira, is the relationship of the GOU to the Uruguayan public. He stated that there is an Orwellian atmosphere prevailing, with the deterioration of public trust in the GOU almost impossible to believe. Torture has become almost obligatory during interrogation, according to Ferreira. The media is controlled almost as it was in the last century, he added.

5. Contrasting to the harsh GOU treatment of Uruguayan citizens, Ferreira stated, is the counter effect of U.S. human rights policy as perceived by the Uruguayan public. There is high regard for the American Embassy in Montevideo, which is projecting an image of seriousness.

6. Referring to General Vadora’s presence in Washington,3 Ferreira stated that Vadora initially promulgated the theory in Uruguay that U.S. human rights policy was all words and no substance. He added that General Vadora believed the military controls the U.S. Government, and that his proper channel of communication was with the Department of Defense. Now, however, Vadora’s attitude is one of uncertainty.

7. Senator Ferreira then stated that one area of concern is with the U.S. signals of satisfaction with human rights progress before it occurs—as an example, he stated that the GOU vague announcement of national elections just prior to Assistant Secretary Todman’s visit to Montevideo was designed to improve that Government’s image.4 Indications of happiness with this announcement by the Department were manipulated, through GOU monopoly of the media, to indicate U.S. approval of the GOU formula for a controlled election.

8. Ferreira added that he realized the U.S. was under pressure to demonstrate that its human rights initiatives were bringing some results, and that he was surprised we had made no comments on the [Page 914] changes in public acceptance of the United States as a result of the Carter Administration’s human rights policy. Prior to this policy the U.S. was not loved in Uruguay. He claimed Assistant Secretary Todman’s trip was the first time he recalled Uruguayan youth having ever applauded an American official.

9. Mr. Christopher responded that we may make mistakes in trying to carry out our human rights policy. We are aware of the danger of reacting favorably to what turn out to be only cosmetic changes. However, we feel an obligation to recognize real change and avoid being too skeptical. He stated that we agree our human rights policy has achieved a real resonance among people and noted that the effect on people has thus far generally been greater than the effect on governments. Over time, our policy will have increased effect at the government level, even with respect to dictatorships. The question remains, how to be more effective now with governments. In the case of Uruguay, we have withheld security assistance and opposed multilateral economic assistance.

10. Senator Ferreira then gave his own impression of the impact of our policy on the Uruguayan military. He referred to the conversion from French to U.S. military tutelage, recalled the social antecedents of the military leadership, and a concept of democratic principles based on a strong anti-communist posture, as the modeling influences on the GOU military. With this orientation, it was possible to understand the strong reaction which the Uruguay military experienced upon being censured by its mentor (U.S.), according to Ferreira. To a certain extent, he added, the strong GOU reaction was justified because of our previous conditioning of the Uruguayan military to expect that its posture on subversion would be understood.

11. Ferreira continued that he is hopeful that our present policies may generate a movement within the Uruguayan military establishment, which is not as homogenous as believed. He then implied that the U.S. should exert more direct economic pressure, claiming that the military budget imposed on an already fragile economy was three times that of Chile, and that the Government deficit was being financed by foreign borrowing. He wondered how much coordination there is between the USG and private U.S. banks, which he stated were lending to an insolvent client. At this point, Ferreira’s son interjected that Uruguay is the one country in Latin America where the alternative to the present government is democracy.

12. The Deputy Secretary concluded the meeting by stating that one reason we are so concerned about the present situation in Uruguay is because we know something about Uruguay’s strong democratic tradition. It must be understood, Mr. Christopher observed, that our human rights policy is governmental and does not extend to the private [Page 915] sector. Our goal must be to try to promote human rights through existing structures, and not by destabilizing governments. We will continue to work on this issue as effectively as possible and are glad to have assessments of the situation as provided by Senator Ferreira through WOLA.

13. At the noon briefing on the day of the meeting the following statement was read by the Department spokesman. There were no questions.

Quote: Uruguay: Deputy Secretary’s meeting with former Uruguayan Senator Wilson Ferreira.

Deputy Secretary Christopher met today with former Senator Wilson Ferreira Aldunate of Uruguay. Senator Ferreira sought the meeting through the Washington Office for Latin America. Mr. Christopher agreed to meet with him in keeping with our policy of exchanging views with a broad spectrum of political leaders, especially those concerned with human rights conditions in their country. Deputy Secretary Christopher reviewed the human rights goals of the administration and told Senator Ferreira that we are hopeful that, through our continuing bilateral efforts in the aftermath of the meeting between President Mendez and President Carter, the Uruguayan Government will take steps to improve human rights conditions in that country. Unquote.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770430-0315. Confidential; Immediate. Drafted by Graham; cleared by McNeil; approved by Christopher.
  2. In telegram 5079 from Montevideo, October 29, Pezzullo recommended that Christopher meet with Ferreira. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770398-1138)
  3. See Document 322.
  4. See footnote 7, Document 318.