Structure and Scope of the Foreign Relations Series

This volume is part of a subseries of volumes of the Foreign Relations series that documents the most important issues in the foreign policy of the administration of Jimmy Carter. This volume documents the policies of the Carter administration toward South America, as well as providing documentation on the goals and policies of the Carter administration toward the Latin America region as a whole. For further coverage of Latin America, see Foreign Relations of the United States, 1977–1980, Volume XV; Central America, 1977–1980 and Foreign Relations of the United States, 1977–1980, Volume XXIII; Mexico, Cuba, and the Caribbean.

Focus of Research and Principles of Selection for Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XXIV

This volume documents U.S. foreign policy toward 10 countries in South America. It also includes a regional compilation containing documentation on broad Carter administration goals and issues throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Carter administration’s human rights policy made both a broad and unpredictable impact on U.S. relations with South American nations. In Ecuador, the policy led the United States to press for the first free elections in six years, which were held successfully. The same focus on elections in Bolivia, however, could not stave off a period of political instability that saw four coups in just over two years, including the notorious “cocaine coup” in July 1980. U.S. suspicions that Argentine military advisors had supported the July 1980 coup in Bolivia are also covered.

The military dictatorships of the Southern Cone interacted with human rights policy in complex ways. Officials in the Carter administration could not agree on the most important goal for U.S. policy towards Argentina. Some officials, led by Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs Patricia Derian, sought to end human rights violations in Argentina through continuous pressure on the Argentine junta. Other officials, more concerned with the stability of the Argentine Government and its economic and other policies, tried not to alienate the junta, especially as its leader, Jorge Videla, was seen by some administration officials as a moderate and a vital partner in the effort to end human rights violations. This volume covers in broad strokes U.S. efforts to influence Argentina through financial [Page X] instruments such as military sales, grant programs, and its votes in the international financial institutions.

This volume also touches on administration perceptions of the different degrees to which the Uruguayan and Paraguayan Governments were willing to reform their human rights practices and accept monitoring from international bodies, which led to a cooling towards Paraguay and a warming towards Uruguay over the course of the Carter presidency. The ongoing investigation into the assassinations of former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier and U.S. citizen Ronni Moffitt in Washington in 1976 also led to a deep chill in U.S. relations with Chile during most of the Carter administration.

Compilations regarding U.S. policy toward a number of other countries focus on issues other than human rights. In Venezuela, the Carter administration enjoyed a close working relationship with President Carlos Andres Perez, encompassed by some cooperation on Central America and ongoing investigations into the Cubana Airlines bombing and Letelier assassination. The administration only paid occasional high-level attention to Colombia, most notably during a hostage crisis involving U.S. Ambassador Diego Asencio. The compilation covering Peru focuses on complex U.S. relations with its leftist military junta, dealing with the Peruvian economic crisis, and eventual elections. U.S. relations with Brazil were generally cool during the Carter administration, with disputes over non-proliferation, trade, and human rights at the forefront of bilateral problems.

The compilation on the Latin America region in this volume contains documentation on broad administration goals in the region and guiding documents such as PRM–17. In addition, the regional compilation contains documentation on U.S. policy regarding multiple border disputes, including the dispute over the Beagle Channel between Chile and Argentina. High-level meetings with multiple hemispheric leaders are also covered in this compilation, including those head of state meetings which took place in the White House at the time of the signing of the Panama Canal Treaties in 1977. Finally, the regional compilation contains documentation on human rights policy as it affected and was implemented in South America as a whole, including documentation on Operation Condor.

Some topics are prominent in the documentary record regarding U.S. policy in South America, but are covered in other volumes in the subseries. The administration’s guiding documents regarding human rights policy, including those regarding Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher’s Interagency Group on Human Rights and Foreign Assistance, are printed in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume II, Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs. A few documents regarding U.S. knowledge of the beginning of the dispute between the United [Page XI] Kingdom and Argentina over the Falklands/Malvinas islands during the Carter administration are in Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, Volume XIII, Conflict in the South Atlantic, 1981–1984. Extensive high-level negotiations with Brazil and Argentina regarding their nuclear capabilities and the Carter administration’s efforts to implement the Treaty of Tlatelolco are covered in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XXVI, Arms Control and Nonproliferation.

Some topics are prominent in the documentary record but are not printed here, either because they are primarily reporting about the internal situation in a country, or because of space constraints. Embassies and analysts frequently reported on human rights violations in South American countries, and these reports received varying degrees of attention in Washington. Reports which gained the most high-level attention in the U.S. Government are printed here or referenced in footnotes, but the extensive reporting by Embassies on human rights—in some cases, weekly cables—could not be accommodated within the space constraints of this volume. Readers are encouraged to consult the documentation declassified and released on the internet during the special Argentina and Chile Declassification Projects by numerous U.S. Government agencies, including the Department of State and the Central Intelligence Agency. U.S. efforts to influence the United Nations and the Organization of American States on questions affecting South America are largely not covered here. A notable exception, covered in some depth in this volume, is U.S. efforts to convince Southern Cone countries to accept visits by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. U.S. efforts to encourage trade with South American nations, including high-level trade missions, are not covered here.


The editor wishes to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of officials at the Jimmy Carter Library, especially Ceri McCarron; the National Security Council, especially John Powers, Greg Koch, and John Fitzpatrick; the National Archives and Records Administration, especially David Langbart and Don McIlwain; the Department of State, especially Keri Lewis, Rasheeda Purifoy, and Greg Murphy; the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense, and the Library of Congress. The Latin Americanist cohort of Michael McCoyer, Nathaniel Smith, and Alexander Poster in the Office of the Historian provided countless research suggestions and informed commiseration.

The editor collected and selected documentation and edited the volume under the supervision of Myra Burton, Chief of the Africa and the Americas division. She and Kristin L. Ahlberg, Assistant to the General Editor, reviewed the volume. Chris Tudda coordinated the declassification review under the supervision of Carl Ashley, Chief of the Declassification and Publishing Division. Heather McDaniel and Matthew [Page XII] R.G. Regan did the copy and technical editing under the supervision of Mandy A. Chalou, Chief of the Editing and Publishing Division.

Sara E. Berndt