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date: 01 December 2022

Jimmy Carter and Human Rights in Latin Americalocked

Jimmy Carter and Human Rights in Latin Americalocked

  • Vanessa WalkerVanessa WalkerAmherst College

Summary

Human rights was perhaps the defining feature of Jimmy Carter’s presidency. Although much attention was given at the time to its impact on US relations with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, Latin America was equally, if not more, important in defining and implementing Carter’s vision of a human rights foreign policy. Latin America was the site of some of the Carter administration’s most visible and concentrated human rights diplomacy, and revealed the central logic and persistent challenges of implementing a coherent, comprehensive human rights policy that worked in tandem with other US interests. Carter’s Latin America policy reimagined US national interests and paired human rights with greater respect for national sovereignty, challenging US patterns of intervention and alignment with right-wing anticommunist dictatorships throughout the Cold War. In the Southern Cone, the Carter administration’s efforts to distance the United States from repressive Cold War allies and foster improvements in human rights conditions provoked nationalist backlash from the military regimes, and faced domestic criticism about the economic and security costs of new human rights policies. Similarly, in Central America, the administration faced the challenge of reforming relations with abusive anticommunist allies in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador without supporting communist revolution. Its tepid and cautious response to violence by the Central American governments called into question the Carter administration’s commitment to its human rights agenda. In Cuba, the Carter administration sought to advance human rights as part of a larger effort to normalize relations between the two countries, an effort that was ultimately stymied by both geopolitical dynamics and domestic politics. Although limited in the fundamental changes it could coax from foreign governments and societies, the administration’s policy had a tangible impact in specific high-profile human rights cases. In the long term, it helped legitimize human rights as part of international diplomacy in Latin America and beyond, amplifying the work of other government and nongovernment proponents of human rights.

Subjects

  • History of Latin America and the Oceanic World
  • 1945–1991
  • Diplomatic History

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