5. Memorandum From Robert Pastor of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • PRC Meeting on Latin America

“Do We Need a Latin American Policy?”

Your question2 struck at the heart of the issue. The idea of “Latin America” as a region is a myth. It is composed of extremely diverse economies and politics, which can manage to form a collective negotiating position only when there is a symbolic need to confront the U.S., such as in the case of the Trade Act of 1974 (GSP/OPEC provision). [Page 26] The most important business of the governments of the hemisphere is dealt with bilaterally or globally. One symptom of this trend toward globalism and bilateralism is the decline of the OAS.

Secondly, given the diversity of the economies, it is unrealistic to believe that a single foreign economic policy—like the Alliance—to so diverse a region is possible any longer, even if it were desirable.

So the answer to your question is “no.” In terms of the objective realities, we do not need a Latin American policy, and I hope that in the future, we will not have one.

But the fact that the President chose Latin America as the one region to have an overall policy review, and the fact that he is being beseiged to speak on Pan American Day3 and to give a major policy address on Latin America, and the fact that the President has repeatedly expressed a special interest in Latin America—all these are indications that we cannot move from our current policy—which is indeed a special one—to no policy in a single step. (To put my point in perspective, I should mention that ARA thinks it would be too risky if the President did not have a Pan American Day speech.) We must do it gradually with some sensitivity to the region and to its constituency in the United States, but I agree with you entirely that if there are the same kind of demands for a Latin America speech in the first year of the President’s second Administration, then we will have failed. Therefore, the policy that we should seek in this first review is one which will help us to move from a special policy for the region to a global North-South policy.

Attached at Tab A is the response to PRM/NSC–17.4 There are parts of the Overview and of Tab 1 (Interests Section) which are first-rate, but the document as a whole is unwieldy. The issues slated for decision are posed poorly—sometimes they miss the principal question entirely. The options are deliberately skewed; they seldom offer a real choice.

The whole exercise has been a great disappointment to me personally, and it has lead me to conclude that if you want new policy directions toward Latin America, the last place you should turn to for advice is ARA. Since ARA is the principal source of advice for Secretary Vance, however, I strongly urge you to discuss with him before Tuesday’s meeting what it is you would like to emerge from the meeting.5 I would also [Page 27] recommend that the meeting follow the agenda6 rather than the specific issues and options listed in the “Overview.”

Permit me to make some suggestions, starting with the peg which we should use to hang the new approach on, and then suggesting the specifics of a new policy.

Outcome of the Meeting

As I wrote to you in my memorandum of March 10 on the request for the President to give a Pan American Day speech,7 I believe a speech on Latin America by the President is necessary before Pan American Day (April 14) in order to preempt any criticism that he is ignoring the region. There are, however, more important reasons for a speech. If the U.S. is to move to a point where Latin American speeches are not necessary, the President must give the bureaucracy some guidance because they are moving in the other direction. He must also alert Latin America and the entire developing world of his views, concerns, and perspective on this question. Thirdly, it is necessary for him to focus on the problem soon with some guidance from the PRC as to the right approach, least he inadvertently send conflicting signals during a press conference to Latin America, to the bureaucracy, and to the U.S. public. Fourth, it would be more desirable for him to make the speech in the United States now rather than save it for a possible trip to the Latin American democracies later in the year, not only because of timing, but more importantly, because Presidential trips tend to bring out the worst kind of rhetoric about our “historic ties” and “shared values,” and thus, it would be more difficult to expect an address setting for such a new approach.

What would he say? An outline of the speech can follow the agenda of the meeting.

I. Overall Approach—General Policy Directions

Important changes within Latin America, within the U.S., and in international politics and economics have dramatically transformed U.S. relations with Latin America, but our psychology and the assumptions underlying current U.S. policy have not adapted to these changes.

—In Latin America, relatively rapid economic development and increasingly institutionalized governments have made them more resistant to foreign influence, particularly North American. At the same time, the economic changes have increased the heterogeneity of the region, making the notion of “Latin America” as an homogenous region more unrealistic than ever before.

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Internationally, Latin Americans have been at the forefront intellectually, politically, and economically of a determined movement by the developing world to alter the terms of exchange between the industralized and developing worlds.

—In the United States, several developments, including the passing of the Vietnam trauma and the reduced insecurity due to detente, served to divert American interest from the problems of the developing world. At the same time, Americans still maintained the “special relationship” mentality, demanding more from Latin America in human rights, restraint on arms transfers, and on other issues, while also promising (though not delivering) more resources to the region.

The guiding principles of a new approach—rather than a new policy—to the region should include:

1. North-South. Rather than trying to divide Latin America from the rest of the developing world, we should encourage Latin American leaders to take the general issues which concern them to a North-South forum and to take a forward (leadership) position on these issues.

Rationale: Several Latin American leaders have been in the forefront of this movement, and we should recognize their efforts, by adopting a global as opposed to a regional approach. Regionalism in all its manifestations—the OAS, the Inter-American Defense Board—has declined in importance over the last two years, and the trend not only seems irreversible, it makes sense. There is less reason to use regional institutions when the issues can only be effectively addressed globally.

2. Global Policy: A Single Standard for the Developing World. U.S. policy on trade, finance, investment, science and technology, aid, human rights, arms transfers and nuclear proliferation should be formulated according to global criteria. In the formulation of these policies we could consult bilaterally with selected governments, or regionally if the forum is an effective one, but the policy we adopt should be a general and a global one.

Rationale: If we are interested in furthering Latin American economic development, then we should adopt a general policy which will confer special trade and financial benefits on Latin America by the nature of the region’s relatively advanced economic position. In the long-term, a special and direct American effort will not bring any more benefits to the region than a general policy, and it is likely to have significant negative political consequences since direct resource transfers inevitably get tied to special American political concerns (i.e., human rights, or treatment of U.S. investors, or anti-Communism), leading to unintended paternalism.8

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3. Mature bilateralism will be enhanced by a global approach, but particularly from the decline of a regional institution which encourages artificial unity on the wrong issues posed in the least constructive way.

4. Diversification of Political and Economic Relationships. In response to the central political need of all Latin American countries to reduce their dependence on the United States or any single source, the U.S. should encourage the present trend toward increasingly diverisified relations between Latin America, Europe, Japan, and even Eastern Europe. At the same time, the U.S. should exhibit a greater tolerance for regimes of widely different political philosophies, distinguishing only on the basis of their respect for fundamental human rights.

5. Non-Intervention. The U.S. should pledge its full respect for the sovereignty of each Latin American nation and should commit itself not to undertake unilateral military intervention or covert intervention in their internal affairs.

Rationale: This simple statement will go far in a region that has experienced the vast majority of U.S.-military exercises abroad.

The question to which this answer is addressed is not only how do we view and respond to political change in Latin America, but also to what extent and in what ways can we influence it.9 U.S. policy to Cuba from 1959 to 1961 offers a classic illustration of the way power and its use have been transformed. Currently, our ability to influence events in Latin America appears greatest not when the power equation is most weighted to our advantage, but when we are cognizant and sensitive to the principal norms of the developing world—sovereignty and social justice.

Bearing this in mind, a reflexive action by the U.S. to counter Soviet efforts to gain influence—either through arms sales or increased trade—is more likely to have the opposite effect. Andy Young’s argument that we are more likely to influence events in Africa if we pay attention to Africa’s obsession—racism—than to our own with respect to the East-West conflict—has direct relevance to Latin America, where the North-South economic issues are their principal preoccupation.

II. Economic Issues

1. Relevant Criteria for Formulating U.S. Economic Policies. The U.S. should adopt economic policies which relate to two or three levels of development of the Third World,10 rather than to an heterogeneous regional grouping. This means concessional assistance for the poorest [Page 30] countries, and increased trade prospects and improved and coordinated debt management for the middle-income developing countries, which are most of the Latin American countries. Trade, not aid.

2. Thus, external financing to the region should increasingly be made through the international financial institutions, and less and less through bilateral assistance.

This represents both a political desire to begin a post-aid relationship, where we do not respond to problems as donors and recipients, and an economic urge to get the most out of our money, since U.S. contributions to the IFIs are multiplied more than ten-fold because of other country pledges.11

3. On foreign direct investment (FDI), we should recognize the sovereign rights of host countries to set the terms of investment. Similarly, the United States Government should adopt a more independent stance premised on an independent definition of the national interest in investment disputes.

Rationale: We should begin to steer an independent, neutral path between labor, which wants to discourage U.S. FDI, and U.S. corporations, which seek U.S. help. On investment disputes, which have been the source of considerable tension in inter-American relations, the U.S. should also seek to identify a position which is representative of the national as opposed to a specific interest.

4. The U.S. should work with the governments of Latin America to seek ways to increase access of the products of Latin America and other developing regions to the markets of the industralized world on a non-discriminatory basis.

Rationale: The Lome Agreement between the European Community and 46 African, Caribbean, and Pacific countries has a discriminatory impact on Latin American exports. Furthermore, vertical and regional preferential arrangements (between industrialized and developing countries) run counter to the U.S. objectives of an open global economy.

III. Human Rights

1. Single Standard. The U.S. should not adopt a different standard for human rights violations in this hemisphere than for anywhere else.

2. IFI s. Human rights considerations should enter into all U.S. decisions with regard to the developing world, but the U.S. should not adopt any automatic or fixed formulas. This means that we should try to obtain some flexibility of the Harkin amendment (to the Inter-[Page 31]American Development Bank Act),12 while resisting its extension to other IFIs.

3. Multilaterlize Our Efforts. To the extent possible, the U.S. should try to multilateralize its concerns and its efforts on human rights by working through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

IV. Relations with Military Regimes

Excluding the use of punitive sanctions, the U.S. should nevertheless adapt its relations with individual governments to the character of the regime, maintaining warm relations with civilian and democratic governments, normal relations with non-repressive military regimes, and cool but correct relations with repressive governments. The U.S. should put particular stress on non-military aspects of cooperation with military governments.

V. Arms Transfers

Again, the policy should be a global one, but one which actively promotes restraint in any appropriate fora or framework (bilateral, sub-regional, regional, or global). We should also avoid competitive sales with the Soviets or with other suppliers.

VI. Organization of American States

The OAS should be reorganized so that it only carries out those functions for which it has a comparative advantage. These functions are peacekeeping and human rights. Its economic and technical assistance functions could be done more effectively by the IDB.

Rationale: Despite recurrent efforts to strengthen the OAS, it continues to decline, largely because the most important business in the hemisphere is not hemispheric. Secretary General Orfila has said this to me in a conversation two weeks ago.13 He also said that he needed the help of the U.S. to reduce the OAS bureaucracy from its current 1,500 to a staff of about 300 which could have responsibility for peacekeeping and human rights. He would also like to do away with the Permanent Council, and believes that if he obtained the complete support of the U.S. he would succeed. It remains to be seen whether he would succeed, but we should certainly help him do that.

One indication of the irrelevance of the OAS in addressing economic issues is the lack of any enthusiasm (or even support) for the Secretary General’s proposal for an OAS Special General Assembly on [Page 32] Economic Cooperation and Development. They still have not yet set a date or a site for this meeting, and it is not clear whether they ever will.

VII. Educational and Cultural Exchanges

The Department of State, in cooperation with other agencies, should reexamine basic objectives and programs in educational and cultural exchanges in consultation with U.S. institutions and with selected Latin American governments, and suggest a specific proposal to the NSC for improving U.S. policy in this area.

VIII. Country and Sub-Regional Issues

Mexico, Cuba and Panama have all been dealt with in other contexts. The two critical areas demanding some kind of U.S. Government attention are Brazil and the Caribbean.

With regard to Brazil, the critical question is whether the U.S. should maintain the Memorandum of Understanding in the light of quite critical comments of this arrangement made by President Carter during the campaign. Given the extreme sensitivity of our current relationship, it would not be advisable to make the decision on the Memorandum of Understanding at this time.14

With regard to the Caribbean, you might want to recommend that we devote a special PRC meeting to that at some future date.

IX. Final Items

1. President’s speech—University of Texas?

2. A quick trip by the President to the democracies in November?

3. A Vice Presidential trip?

For your use, I have prepared an abbreviated outline of the agenda and the major points recommended in this memorandum. It is attached at Tab B.15 A draft Presidential Directive is attached at Tab C.16

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Pastor, Subject Files, Box 64, PRM–17 [Latin America]: 1/77–3/14/77. Confidential. Sent for information. Inderfurth and Brzezinski initialed the first page of the memorandum.
  2. Not found.
  3. See Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. I, Foundations of Foreign Policy, Document 33.
  4. Attached, printed as Document 4.
  5. Reference is to the PRC meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, March 15, which was held on March 24 (see Document 7). No record of a discussion between Vance and Brzezinski between March 14 and 24 has been found.
  6. Attached as Tab B but not printed.
  7. Not found.
  8. Pastor highlighted this sentence and wrote in the left-hand margin: “Raise expectations—only lower.”
  9. Pastor highlighted this sentence and wrote in the left-hand margin: “Take Defense the add. step.”
  10. An unknown hand highlighted this phrase in the left-hand margin.
  11. An unknown hand marked this sentence with an “X” in the left-hand margin.
  12. For the Harkin amendments to foreign aid bills, see footnote 8, Document 4.
  13. March 7. A memorandum of this conversation is in the Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Pastor, Subject Files, Box 60, OAS, 1–12/77.
  14. See footnote 2, Document 165.
  15. Attached but not printed.
  16. Attached but not printed.