Playing the wrong role in the right game
For the United States the Human Rights position in Latin America is based on image. History has taught us that as in any game, the United States also plays by their priorities, this meaning that depending on time, decisions change from ?good? to ?gains?. Selfishness is presented in many of the United States?s actions and inactions. Therefore, it is fair to say that image is and will always be the most important issue for the United States in Latin America.
An example is presented in this paper where humanitarian aid was rapidly substituted by the Panama Canal Treaty gains. In the case of Nicaragua, where human rights were being miss used by the three year dictator Somoza, The United States presented their image of ? the guardian angel? and intervened. However, when pressure was presented by the Panamanian, were the Panama Canal Treaty was in jeopardy, the United States preferred to keep their image in Latin America, however keeping their priority on the Panama Canal, they chickened out cutting off aid in Nicaragua.
United States foreign policy in South America during the Carter Administration was shaped by three major themes: the commitment to the Panama Canal Treaty, the hope of advancing democracy and Human Rights in Nicaragua, and the refusal to over throw the government1 . As said before, their primary goal, however, was to complete the Panama Canal Treaty. Therefore, the United States position regarding Nicaragua became one of inaction in great part due to Panama?s smuggling of arms to a leftist group in this country. This shows that the priority that the Panama Canal Treaty held for the Carter Administration over establishing a democracy in place of Somoza?s harsh regime caused these matters to be kept from the public to avoid endangering the already contraversal Treaty, ad at the same time shaped Carters? policy of inaction in Nicaragua.
Somoza, dictator for three years, was experiencing a lot of opposition both inside and outside Nicaragua even before Carter came to office, because of inhumane conditions. Other Latin American countries, including Costa Rica, Panama, Venezuela, Colombia and Cuba were supporting low-level guerrillas operations against Somoza regime.
Therefore, as mentioned before, promoting Democracy in Nicaragua , although of less importance than the Panama Canal, was one of Carters policies towards Latin Americans. Nevertheless, , in the early 1977 the United States knew that they could take their time in altering Somozas regime and neutralizing the communist forces. ? The attempt to normalize relations with Cuba and negotiation of the Panama Canal Treaty served the additional purposes of holding in abeyance the main external threats to Somoza?.2
The first United States policy towards Nicaragua was indeed centered on the Human Rights approach, which actually caused some changes in the Nicaragua regime as Somoza tried to conform to the United States. Somoza advanced by making a few changes in his cabinet and enlarging it. By September of 1977 the press censorship was ended, and a state of siege which had been in effect since 1974, was ceased.3 The United States had to be careful with the image it would portray to the other Latin American Countries and therefore distanced itself from the conflict to avoid being perceived as supporter of Somozas harsh regime.
Due to the harsh regime, on October 13 of 1977 the Sandinistas carried raids from the boarder of Costa Rica. On January 10, 1978, a La Prensa editor named Pedro Joaquim Chamorro was assassinated. He was known for being the most qualified person to succeed Somoza. Great domestic oppositions were caused to the regime because of this, since even the wealthy did not feel secure.
As a result of these negative engagement, the Carter Administration knew something needed to be done, though opinions were divided. Part of the administration believed that United States should offer assistance to the N. Guard to provide security for the Nicaragua citizens and therefore move towards social, economic, and political development. One of the problem with this theory is that the administration failed to see the connection between Somoza and the N. Guard. Supporting one ,would mean supporting the other and this once again would become a problem for the United States image.
Preocupations were encountered and by early September, intelligence began to accumulate evidence of indirect Panamanian involvement in shipping weapons to the FSLN (The Sandinista National Liberation Front). The weapons were originally coming from Cuba, flown to Panama , and from there flown to bases in Northern Coast of Costa Rica, where Sandinistas were trained.4 Realizations by the Americans were that, if this Panamanian cooperation was publicized, it would have a negative impact on the Panama Canal Treaty negotiations, since the legislation for the Treaty had not been passed. Therefore , even though aware of the involvement , the United States had to ignore it, at least publicly, to avoid it from ruining the Treaty, a policy which had much higher priority.5 If the American public were to know of this involvement, they would disagree with the Panama Canal Treaty process. This evidence for support of the Sandinistas had yet another implication for the United States . They could no longer pursue a long-term strategy, for this would allow a Sandinista victory. Instead they had to move quicker towards removing Somoza and implementing a more democratic regime.
?On February 8 announcement market the effective end of any constructive United States involvement in the Nicaragua revolution?.6 This in turn ruined the winning possibility for the moderate opposition, the only chance for a democratic government in Nicaragua. Looking at the over all picture and past American interventions in Latin American Countries, it is hard to believe that this was caused by the principle of nonintervention and that the United States government was willing to allow a situation such as this one, were a leftist victory was more than possible, to solve itself.
Nevertheless, ever since Venezuelan president Luis Herrera Campins had come to power in March of 1979, Venezuelans secret supply of arms to the Sandinistas had reduced.7 By late April of this same year, Carazo, the president of Costa Rica, and Torrijos, the leader of Panama, had opened their doors to the Cuba airlift of war materiel for the Sandinistas. The United States had increased its intelligence coverage of Cuba due to the suspicion of a Soviet brigade and therefore it is hard to believe that they would not be aware of supply route and Panamanian cooperation. According to Pastor, the administration did not realize until mid-June, that there was this extensive scheme going on. After withdrawing from the crisis, ?the administration would neither confirm nor deny Cuba, Panamanian, or Costa Rican involvement in the conflict, nor even identify the Sandinistas as Marxists.?8
On June 5TH, a secret visit to Panama took place , where Pastor and the United States Ambassador to Panama, Amber Moss, asked Torrijos to discontinue action s against Somoza to ensure passage of the Canal legislation and tried to persuade him to stop sending arms to the Sandinistas.9 Here again we see how the Human Rights problem was not imposed, since for the United States the Panama Canal Treaty was more important, and all that really mattered to them was the pretty face in Latin America. The final Canal legislation was not signed until September 27, two months after the Sandinistas victory. In fact, in may 1979 Carter told the Panamanian President then due to the Panamanian and Nicaragua link, the administration cold not do anything about Nicaragua until the Canal Treaty cleared the house.10
In his book, Condemned to Repetition, Pastor explains that Carter refused to the Panama Canal- Nicaragua linkage. This became evident from looking at his memoir and that of Vance and Brzezinski, all of who spend uncountable hours dealing with the Nicaragua conflict but blatantly tried to ignore it in their memoir. The inaction taken by the United States in the Nicaragua revolution was, to a great extent , shaped by the importance of the Panama Canal Treaty. The United States was not willing to take any action that would hurt its relationship with Panama or anything that would uncover the secret flow of arms that went through the country. A lot of the contraversal actions taken by the administration , such as the stop of arms flow to Somoza but not to the Sandinistas, can also be accounted for with the fragile relationship the United States needed to sustain with Panama. It is clear by the actions chosen by the administration that the Panama Canal Treaty were of more priority therefore Panama actions greatly shaped Carters policy towards Nicaragua. This again shows how the Human Rights approach of the United States in Latin America is not of great importance, when there are other games paying important and more lucrative roles in the administration. If another game is giving more to the United States, the United States main goal is to get all that it can from this rival, before going out of its way to pursue the correct help needed in those countries which cannot really offer much back for their help. It is the right game, which the United States is playing, however, if their role really is to be the ?Guardian Angel?, then their priorities are in the wrong order. You might be in the right game many times, and still play the wrong role over and over again, as has done the United States concerning Human Rights.