336. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Carter’s First Meeting with the President of Venezuela During His State Visit


  • President Jimmy Carter
  • Vice President Walter Mondale
  • Secretary of State Cyrus Vance
  • Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski
  • Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Terence A. Todman
  • NSC Staff Member Robert A. Pastor (Notetaker)
  • President Carlos Andres Perez of Venezuela
  • Minister of Foreign Affairs Ramon Escovar Salom
  • Minister of State for International Economic Affairs Manuel Perez Guerrero
  • Minister of Mines and Hydrocarbons Valentin Hernandez Acosta
  • Minister of Finance Hector Hurtado Navarro
  • Minister of Information and Tourism Diego Arria
  • Permanent Representative to the United Nations Simon Alberto Consalvi Bottaro
  • Ambassador to the United States Ignacio Iribarren Borges
  • Ambassador to the OAS Jose Maria Machin

President Carter opened the conversation by saying that since the United States and Venezuela shared so many goals and values, he was looking forward to seeking President Perez’s advice on the many bilateral and multilateral issues of concern to the two governments.

President Carlos Andres Perez thanked President Carter for his generosity and said that “what you attribute to me is precisely what you are.” He said that because he identified fully with many of President Carter’s policies, he felt that coordination of policies would be easy. President Perez said that he would not only try to relate the Venezuelan view of issues, but also the views of Latin America and the entire developing world. He promised President Carter a memorandum on the North-South dialogue. He did not accept CIEC as a failure, but as an important beginning. He suggested that they try to find within the UN the appropriate mechanism to continue the dialogue.

He noted that for the first time the developing countries feel they have some power. But they would prefer to use this new power to [Page 955] give an expanded definition to interdependence—a New International Economic System, as Secretary Vance called it—rather than face the industrialized world across the table with hostility. He recognized that the pace of negotiations on the North-South issues would have to be gradual, but he wondered whether the U.S. really understood the need for this kind of results, which developing countries would view as satisfactory.

President Perez said that President Carter’s human rights policy has had a great and favorable impact on Latin America. For the first time, military governments speak of themselves as transitory. He thought that a Joint Declaration of Human Rights to be issued at the end of his visit would have a direct impact on Latin America, and he hoped to give it content by specifying his desire to increase the independence and the resources of the Inter-American Commission.2 Also mentioned should be the Costa Rican proposal for a UN High Commission and the need to stimulate democratic processes.

President Perez then spoke about some of the important changes which have occurred in Latin America. Peru is headed towards democracy. When Morales Bermudez visited Caracas, he spoke about APRA playing an important role in Peru’s political future. In Argentina, as he had said to Mrs. Carter, there is a strong possibility of returning to democracy, but the process is intimately tied to General Videla.3 Events in Argentina will have important implications for the developments in the entire Southern Cone.

President Perez had no recipes for Chile. The political situation has deteriorated, according to reports he has heard from Chilean exiles living in Venezuela. Brazil is a very diverse and complicated country, but he thought that the military was using the nuclear issue for their own purposes. Nevertheless, he thought that they are willing to move—in the long-term if not now—towards a democratic government.

On the issue of nuclear energy, President Perez said that he thought that a Latin American organization like OLADE (a Latin American Energy Organization set up by a Venezuelan initiative) or OPANAL (responsible for implementing the Tlatelolco Treaty) would be one way of approaching the problem of developing nuclear energy, and he suggested SELA as a possible channel or perhaps as an organization that could manage a [Page 956] reprocessing plant. On reprocessing, he said that Brazil was basically using the need for a reprocessing plant as an excuse to obtain a nuclear weapons’ capability, which it wanted for reasons of status.

President Perez said that Latin American integration was an important subject, and he had always suspected that the US did not really want Latin American integration. This is never openly expressed, but in 1972, he had gotten this impression as a result of a conversation he had with the Assistant Secretary of State.4 President Perez stressed the importance of political stability and economic integration as important ingredients for building democracy in the Hemisphere.

President Perez expressed great concern about the Caribbean problem, which in the short-run was quite serious. The problem is that colonialism left small countries with small populations and small economic potential. A major effort needs to be made at regional integration. He used the examples of the islands of the Dutch Antilles, a few miles away from Venezuela, which want their independence separately. When these islands asked Venezuela for help against Castroism, President Perez told them to ask the US, jesting that the US has much more experience at intervention. More seriously, President Perez warned that if the US does not help the Caribbean, the nations will be taken over by economic mafias or by Cuba.

Jamaica is the key country because of its location and Manley’s leadership. Perez was somewhat concerned about Jamaica’s excessive preoccupation with Cuba, but he believes that the US policy of rapprochement to Jamaica has changed the situation in Jamaica for the better. President Perez said that he was greatly interested in developing a comprehensive program for the Caribbean because a solution to the economic problems of the Caribbean would be the best way to deal with Cuba.

He said that to understand Cuban behavior, one should see it as part of an overall strategy of the USSR, which is clearly willing to pay the price of subsidizing Cuba in order to pursue its goals. Nevertheless, Cuba had built a good educational system which has had a great impact on its youth and thus on the entire country. Venezuela has decided to re-establish diplomatic relations because the Communist structure is permanent as a result of the educational system, and Venezuela’s interests are served better with relations than without.

President Perez understood, however, that such a course presents many more problems for the US than for Venezuela. He said that he was aware of President Carter’s gestures and decisions to help improve the climate of US-Cuban relations. He expressed the opinion that diplo [Page 957] matic relations have helped Venezuela more than Cuba, and he surmised that Cuba would be reluctant to have embassies of countries like Costa Rica, Venezuela and the U.S. in Havana because the democratic presence might present a threat to Castro.

He raised the issue of anti-Castro Cuban terrorism. He said that he did not have proof, but he had good reports that former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier was killed by Cubans employed by the Chilean secret police, DINA.5 President Perez suggested that the U.S. and Venezuela cooperate more in the exchange of information on terrorism.

President Perez referred to the Belize issue as a “menace” which could easily lead to Cuban interference. He himself had made several efforts, including sending the Foreign Minister to Guatemala, but Guatemala wants half of Belize, and that is impossible. He reported that the President of Mexico is willing to cooperate to obtain Belizean independence. President Perez himself favors a small concession to Guatemala for face-saving purposes. He is concerned, however, that the Guatemalan army is not fully controlled by the government and may conceivably provoke a war. Perez suggested that pressure by other countries to force Guatemala to come to an agreement may be necessary.

In the Andean region, he said the problem is Peruvian revanchism. He said that the only possible solution to the problem is to give Bolivia access to the sea and to begin an economic development program to the border region conditional on the guarantee of acceptance by all major parties of the permanence of the borders.

President Carter then responded by reaffirming U.S. eagerness to strengthen the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights by giving it more funds and unimpeded access to investigate violations of human rights in all countries. The U.S. is also embarked on a broadening of our definition of human rights to encompass a world program against hunger and for better health. The President said he hoped that efforts to promote human rights would not be confined to two or three nations, but would be more multilateral. The President noted that the American people and Congress are sometimes excessively committed to punish countries which violate human rights. His inclination is to recognize and reward countries like Argentina which make progress in this area, while Congress’ predisposition is to terminate assistance.

President Carter reiterated his strong opposition to the creation of nuclear explosives capabilities in the Hemisphere, and said that Mrs. Carter had made this point with many leaders, but particularly with Brazilian [Page 958] President Geisel.6 In addition, we continue to put maximum pressure on Germany and Brazil to try to get their agreement modified. Our general policy will remain that we will continue to provide nuclear fuel for these countries which do not have reprocessing capabilities.

The President said that Geisel had claimed his intentions were peaceful, but Mrs. Carter had warned that his successors may not be so peaceful. Speculating on Brazil’s motives, the President thought that the capability to produce nuclear weapons probably held a certain status for Brazil and represented greater equality in power.

Nonetheless, Mrs. Carter encouraged Geisel to bring the Treaty of Tlatelolco into effect. The US has also asked the Soviets, and if Argentina could ratify it, that would remove Brazil’s excuse. The President said that Argentina’s apparent desire to build a reprocessing plant caused him some concern. He had signed Protocol I as an indication of his commitment. He asked whether Venezuela would use its influence to encourage Argentine’s ratification of the Tlatelolco Treaty.

The President then said that the US had no objection to Latin American integration, which he considered “a step in the right direction.” The President said he supported the Andean Pact7 and also wanted to encourage multilateral efforts to help the Caribbean, either through the World Bank or the OAS, or perhaps a new entity. Prime Minister Manley and President Oduber suggested that Amb. Andrew Young visit the Caribbean soon, and President Carter said it would be useful if Young goes to Caracas since he considers Venezuela key to this effort.

The President said that the US is prepared to provide almost $60 million to Jamaica this year and next, but that Congress would never approve this amount unless Jamaica reaches an agreement with the IMF first. Also, the President agreed with Perez that more cooperation among neighboring countries would be needed to help Jamaica, and he was eager to learn from Perez new ideas on how this might be done.

President Carter said that he has tried to re-establish communication with Cuba and had signed two agreements to that effect.8 The US also plans to establish Interests Sections and exchange a number of diplomats in order to facilitate communication between the two governments. At this time, however, President Carter said that he doesn’t have plans to move any further. Political prisoners and the continued [Page 959] deployment of Cuban troops in Africa have become major obstacles that need to be resolved before the US can re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba. President Carter agreed with Perez’ overall assessment of Cuba, that Communism is permanent there.

Castro never requested diplomatic relations with the US, privately or publicly. His primary interest is to get the embargo terminated, but to the US, the embargo and the other issues are tied together.

On terrorism, the President informed Perez that he directed the Attorney General, the FBI Director, and other investigators to move aggressively to reduce the concentration and the relative freedom of terrorists in Miami. The President was concerned that this small minority was also terrorizing other Cuban-Americans.

On the issue of Belize and Guatemala, he said that a small territorial adjustment might solve the problem, but the US did not intend to re-draw the map for these countries. He said that Perez’ good offices would be much more appropriate, and we would be prepared to lend our support to his efforts. Perhaps, the two governments could agree to appoint a mediator to arbitrate the dispute.

The President said that a mediator might also be helpful in the Andean dispute. Peru’s economy was feeling the weight of the arms build-up and would like to reduce its arms expenditures. While not aware of the country which Peru would trust most, President Carter said that he would be glad to accommodate Venezuela’s suggestion, provided the nations involved are in agreement on this.

President Perez then told of his recent and very frank conversation with a representative from French President Giscard. President Perez told him that France was setting a bad example in Latin America in its reluctance to sign the Tlatelolco Treaty and its non-proliferation policies, and that Venezuela supported President Carter’s initiatives in this area. President Perez said that President Videla of Argentina made a commitment to try to have Argentina subscribe to the Tlatelolco Treaty, but Videla couldn’t give Perez complete assurances until he examined the issue with the rest of his government.

A major concern of President Perez is the possible US withdrawal from the International Labor Organization and the increasing politicization of the ILO and UNESCO as a result of the Middle East conflict.9 As a small country interested in human rights, Venezuela is very interested in these organizations, and withdrawal by the US would be a serious blow.

[Page 960]

President Carter explained that the US has been an active member in the ILO, but he is concerned that the Communists and the Arab countries have taken control of it and have increasingly used it for propaganda purposes. The President said that he wanted to stay in the ILO, but he didn’t consider the last meeting encouraging. As the US moves to a final decision in November, he pledged to President Perez that he would take his opinion into consideration.

In answer to a question by President Carter about the best mechanism to help the Caribbean, President Perez said the Caribbean Development Bank would be the most appropriate mechanism, not only for purposes of economic integration, but also because it would credibly deflect the criticisms that the US and Venezuela were becoming “neo-imperialists” in the Caribbean.

Secretary Vance noted that the current Jamaican problem was too large, too short-term, and too urgent to be handled by the Caribbean Development Bank, but President Carter said he did believe the Bank might be a good way to deal with the long-term development problems of the small states of the region.

On Jamaica, the President said that he was prepared to give $8 million before Jamaica reaches agreement with the IMF, and the balance after the agreement.10 President Perez suggested that a consortium of representatives from the US, Venezuela, Canada, Colombia, Mexico, and perhaps the UK, could meet informally to discuss the urgent Jamaica issue as well as the long-term approach.

President Carter then closed the meeting by suggesting an outline of the issues they could discuss the next day: Law of the Sea negotiations; Southern Africa; oil supplies; North-South dialogue; illicit payments treaty; Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation; and the OPEC-exclusionary amendment.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 85, Venezuela, 1/77-12/78. Confidential. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room at the White House. The discussion of nuclear non-proliferation is also printed as Document 416 in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XXVI, Arms Control and Nonproliferation.
  2. The Joint Communiqué regarding human rights, issued on July 1, is printed in Department of State Bulletin, August 1, 1977, pp. 153–154.
  3. For information concerning Rosalynn Carter’s two conversations with Perez, see footnote 2, Document 333 and footnote 5, Document 335. Perez’s comments about Videla were made in his June 11 conversation with Escovar, Todman, Pastor, and Vaky. (Telegram 5989 from Caracas, June 14; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770212-0846)
  4. A record of this conversation was not found.
  5. For the investigation into Letelier’s September 21, 1976, murder, see Documents 209 and 210.
  6. See Document 165.
  7. A trade bloc formed in 1969 by Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. Venezuela joined the Andean Pact in 1973; Chile left it in 1977.
  8. Presumably a reference to the U.S.-Cuba fisheries agreement, concluded in April, and to the Interests Sections agreement reached in May; see Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XXIII, Mexico, Cuba and the Caribbean, footnote 4, Document 11 and footnote 6, Document 15.
  9. On May 27, the White House issued a statement indicating that a Cabinet-level committee was reviewing the issue of U.S. membership in the ILO. (Public Papers: Carter, 1977, Book I, p. 1029)
  10. See Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XXIII, Mexico, Cuba and the Caribbean, footnote 4, Document 180.