Columbia International Affairs Online: Course Packs and Syllabi

Human Rights and International Law

Latin American foreign policies and human rights
Cristina Eguizabal
from Human Rights and Comparative Foreign Policy: Foundations of Peace, David P. Forsythe, ed.
United Nations University


Human rights as found in international law are a relatively recent addition to the agenda of international affairs, dating mostly from 1945. Political antecedents, however, have been present in the international arena for a long time. 1 Moreover, political controversy is not a new feature of the international discourse on human rights.

Almost two hundred years ago, Napoleon's armies conquered Europe supposedly in the name of "liberty, equality, fraternity" — and thus arguably to spread the "rights of man" over the old world. During the height of colonialism in the nineteenth century, the Western version of human rights provided the foundation at home for the "white man's burden" abroad and its "civilizing mission" as articulated primarily by the British and French. The rights of man became part of the West's ideological arsenal in its fight against Nazism and Fascism during especially the 1930s and 1940s. The collective human right to the self-determination of peoples, championed by President Wilson as a guarantee for peace after the First World War, became a potent ideological weapon in the hands of African and Asian independence patriots after the Second World War.

During the Cold War years, the West saw itself as standing for liberal democracy and individual rights in the face of the totalitarian threat, even as the West was undermining those very same values in places like Guatemala from 1954. Much of the global South invoked the notions of social and economic rights as the rationale for their demands for a fairer international economic system. A majority of third world intellectual and political elites viewed international social justice as their right, while the West, led by the United States, fiercely resisted all efforts to produce a New International Economic Order.

In Latin America the human rights issue was seen by many on the political right as a useful rhetorical device in their anti-communist crusade, especially since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights mentioned the right to private property. Much of the political left in Latin America focused on social justice and denounced the concept of political rights as part of Western imperialism.

Today, although the concept of human rights is still seen by some as an ideological weapon in the hands of the West or global North, the debate over the universality of human rights appears embedded in a broader controversy of paradigmatic proportions over the changing notion of state sovereignty in the modern world. The sovereignty of the state is being challenged ethically, politically, and economically. From an ethical perspective, the peoples of the world are increasingly holding national governments accountable for the way they treat their citizens. Politically, most governments have accepted, at least on paper, to adhere to international standards in the treatment of their nationals, also accepting, at least in principle, the right of other governments and international institutions to hold them to these standards through international monitoring mechanisms. Last, but not least, the need for national economies to be directly linked to the global market has opened most societies to international financial and economic scrutiny. More recently, the international community, led by the World Bank, has begun demanding — at least spasmodically — good governance as linked to economic transactions.

Latin American societies have been permeated by these controversies over human rights. Their governments have been, at different historical junctures, more or less involved in the international debate over human rights issues. The Western hemisphere has the second-best regional system for the protection of human rights, second only to the Council of Europe. Historically, some Latin American states championed human rights — such as small Costa Rica. This was certainly true at the time the United Nations Charter was drafted. Today, with democratically elected governments ruling in most of Latin America, a positive foreign policy stand over human rights is fortunately becoming the norm, not the exception. Let us not forget, though, that in the not so distant past most Latin American foreign policies were devised, in the name of anti-communism, as shields destined to protect military dictatorships while they waged "dirty wars" against the people. Thus it is fair to ask whether or not Latin American states will continue to stress human rights issues in their foreign policies.

I. Historical background: The asylum tradition

Latin American political elites felt very early on the need to forge principled foreign policy discourses. Although the concept of "nation" that swept the region during the nineteenth century excluded indigenous peoples and certain other ethnic groups, the theme of human rights appeared as a key component of the region's international relations. At home, the Latin American independent republics aspired to be liberal democracies. Abroad, the first Hispanic American conferences dealt extensively with a selected number of human rights issues such as slavery, continental citizenship, and asylum. The latter became an important part of the region's diplomatic tradition.

The exclusive concept of nation espoused by the Latin American founding fathers might explain the elitist conception of asylum that they forged, primarily offering protection to the cosmopolitan elites to which they belonged. During subsequent years, however, the region's asylum tradition evolved into a broader humanitarian practice protecting large numbers of individuals who had been obliged to abandon their homes because of political persecution (Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil during the 1970s) and indiscriminate violence (Central America during the 1980s).

The first reference to the right of asylum and the codification of extradition appeared in the 1848 Latin American Confederacy Treaty. The right of asylum would later be codified by the 1877—1880 Treaty of Extradition — where for the first time a clear distinction between criminal and political offences was made — and subsequently by the 1889 International Criminal Law Treaty, the 1928 Havana Convention, and the 1933 Montevideo Treaty. 2 These documents essentially stated the inviolability of the right of asylum. They also established the concomitant obligation of the granting country to prevent the beneficiaries of its protection from engaging in activities targeted against their country of origin. At a time when national borders were still in flux, and political persuasions — conservative or liberal — were as strong as national allegiances, the practice of political asylum granted by friendly countries to their neighbours' political opponents was at its core a functional mechanism for the protection of the nascent civilian political elites. The consolidation of national armies at the end of the nineteenth century would change the nature of civilian politics; however, the practice of diplomatic asylum remained and over the years benefited broader categories of political opponents.

Countless opponents to military strongmen ruthlessly ruling in different Latin American countries during the 1950s — Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, Perez Jimenez in Venezuela, Rojas Pinilla in Colombia, Stroessner in Paraguay, and Somoza in Nicaragua — found protection in Latin American embassies and refuge in civilian-ruled Costa Rica, Mexico, and Brazil. Similarly, during the struggle against General Batista's dictatorship in Cuba, Latin American embassies in Havana offered protection to large numbers of Castro's supporters. Subsequently many of his opponents would be sheltered until 1961, when, following Washington's leadership, all Latin American governments, except Mexico, severed diplomatic ties with the revolutionary government of Cuba. In the 1970s, some countries became safe havens to thousands fleeing repression: Chilean, Argentinian, Uruguayan, and Brazilian intellectuals and artists were allowed to find new homes in the northern part of the subcontinent — particularly Costa Rica, Mexico, and Venezuela. 3

The 1980s witnessed more than 2 million people forced to abandon their homes as a consequence of armed conflicts in Central America. Most of them became refugees in their own countries — displaced persons. But at least 200,000 received formal refugee status in neighbouring countries — Mexico, Honduras, and Costa Rica — where the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) established numerous camps. Opponents to the Central American military regimes had been granted political asylum by the Costa Rican, Nicaraguan, and Mexican governments since the beginning of the decade. Political preferences played increasingly important roles as the Mexican and Nicaraguan authorities welcomed mostly sympathizers of the leftist insurgencies, whereas the Guatemalan government allowed the foes of Sandinista rule in Nicaragua to settle in its territory.

In August 1987, after almost 10 years of civil strife, the Central American presidents committed themselves to seek political solutions to the armed conflicts that opposed them and divided their societies. Invoking the right of Central America to self-determination, they asked external powers — namely the United States and Cuba — to cease supporting their political allies on the ground. Among their multiple commitments to promote democracy, they agreed to respect the right of the displaced populations to return to their homes and asked for the international community's assistance. In September 1988, the Central American governments met in San Salvador with UNHCR and donor agencies' representatives and devised a reinsertion strategy to be known as CIREFCA (from the Spanish acronym for the International Conference for Central American Refugees). CIREFCA's Plan of Action (1989-1994) expanded the concept of refugee to include not only the internally displaced, but also those who had stayed, thus addressing in more general terms the socio-economic consequences of being uprooted. The reinsertion process was conceived as an integral part of other efforts towards peace and democracy; respect for human rights was at the core of the whole endeavour. 4

The very important part played by the international community in the solution of the refugee crisis in Central America and in the following peace process should not obscure the crucial contribution specifically made by Latin American diplomacy, and the extent of Mexico's leadership role. It is undeniable that the Mexican authorities were concerned about Central American unrest spilling over the border, fearing that violence would engulf their southern states — Chiapas, Tabasco, Quintana Roo, and Campeche. However, Mexico's foreign policy behaviour also stood out as symbolic of shared Latin American paradoxes in the conduct of foreign affairs. Mexico was active on matters that deeply affected other countries, but at home it tried to cling to a long-standing tradition of absolute self-determination. The ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party was highly reluctant to endorse any scheme that seemed to intrude on what was called the country's internal affairs. Be that as it may, within the conceptual framework of a Latin American "collective security regime," Mexico and other states were willing to provide crucial humanitarian and diplomatic initiatives — in this case high-profile diplomacy in favour of a political solution to the Central American conflicts. 5

Thus we see that the long-standing tradition of honouring political asylum in Latin America led in contemporary times to great attention to refugee matters in foreign policy. This focus was combined with efforts to provide security in the region, especially in Central America in recent years. Increasingly, even in Mexico, international solutions were needed for humanitarian and political problems, which reduced the commitment to an expansive and absolute view of state sovereignty. The focus on human rights (as linked to security) was not forced on Latin American states by outside powers and organizations, but evolved through various state foreign policies in the region.

II. Domestic factors: More political space for rights

Most Latin American states, having been victimized by outside intervention, historically defined the protection of state sovereignty and the endorsement of the traditional principle of non-intervention as their paramount goals in foreign policy. Repressive states obviously had an interest in these claims, to shield their repression from outside scrutiny. But more progressive Latin states also were highly nationalistic, because their experience suggested that the US government would join local and transnational business interests to block progressive social and economic change. 6 Against this background, it should not come as a surprise that the Latin American political left, including the moderate left, tended to see the renewed human rights discourse from the mid-1970s as another excuse for US intervention.

Although geopolitical considerations raised by the traditional US foreign policy establishment made many of President Carter's initiatives look vain at best, hypocritical at worst, his human rights foreign policy had an everlasting impact on Latin American perceptions of Washington's loyalties. It demonstrated to Latin American reformers that the alliance between the US government and right-wing sectors, although still possible (as the Reagan administration would prove in Central America), had ceased to be "automatic." President Carter showed that Washington could eventually tolerate reform in Latin America and to certain extent even promote it. Carter's emphasis on human rights in Latin America opened much-needed political space, which allowed activists — locally as well as internationally — to voice their demands for greater respect.

Latin American constitutions read well on paper, but actual respect for human rights had been inconsistent at best in most Latin American countries, particularly concerning the rights of the most vulnerable sectors of society such as indigenous populations, the working poor, racial and ethnic minorities, and women. Despite spasms of major repression, as in El Salvador in 1932 and in Colombia during 1948-1958, political repression in the region had been selective and largely buffered by the practice of diplomatic asylum. The 1973 military coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile inaugurated an era of widespread and brutal repression. Indiscriminate abuses against the entire population were aimed particularly at decimating the new generation of political and intellectual leaders who had in large numbers supported President Allende's regime in the region's most stable democracy. Military coups soon followed in Uruguay that same year, and in Argentina three years later; repression worsened elsewhere. 7

Long-standing international religious groups and human rights non-governmental organizations (HRNGOs), such as the World Council of Churches, the International Commission of Jurists, the UN Quaker Office, the International League for Human Rights, the Federation Internationale des Droits de l'Homme, and Amnesty International, were the first to denounce the abuses. They also had been active in denouncing repression by Franco in Spain, Salazar in Portugal, and the Greek military dictatorship. Along with a small number of Scandinavian and West European governments, they constituted what appears today as "the first generation" of activists denouncing human rights abuses by the Latin American military governments.

The coup d'état in Chile — and Washington's involvement — stimulated the creation of new human rights organizations in the United States (e.g. the Washington Office on Latin America, the Lawyers Committee for International Human Rights). Both joined the transnational human rights coalition early on. Private philanthropic institutions such as the Ford Foundation were, as their main funders, instrumental in the creation and development of the transnational human rights coalition that would eventually include Latin American HRNGOs as well. 8

In Latin America, the first HRNGO, the Argentinian League for the Rights of Man, had been created in 1937 in opposition to General Uriburu's military coup. The Paraguayan Commission for the Defence of Human Rights, created 30 years later, in 1967, was only the second one. 9 After 1973, the progressive worsening of the human rights situation in the region prompted the creation of multiple organizations in a relatively short period of time. Some resulted when victims of human rights violations or their families got together and demanded the truth (e.g. the Mothers and Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina, the Myrna Mack Foundation, and the Group for Mutual Support in Guatemala). Other HRNGOs were established by religious organizations as vehicles for their pastoral work (e.g. Vicaría de la Solidaridad in Chile, Justice and Peace in Colombia, and the Brazilian Commission for Peace and Justice). A third type of HRNGO resulted from the gathering of concerned professionals, such as lawyers and journalists. Many such professionals, or their closest relatives, were victims of human rights violations themselves. This situation led to the creation of professional groups such as the Peruvian Institute for Legal Defence and the Colombian Commission of Jurists. Finally, several regional Latin American HRNGOs or coalitions of HRNGOs were established (e.g. the Andean Commission of Jurists and SERPAJ, the Latin American Service for Peace and Justice). 10

A heterogeneous and informal human rights coalition emerged on a transnational scale that was capable of creating and mobilizing considerable political capital and of moving the issue of human rights from the periphery of the international community's concerns to the centre. In spite of formidable official opposition, Latin American HRNGOs, supported by their international counterparts, the international press, and progressive governments, were capable of creating political space for the region's democratic transition.

HRNGOs played particularly important roles where transitions to democracy resulted from internationally brokered and carefully negotiated political agreements. In Central America and Haiti, human rights observer missions worked closely with local groups, setting the context for fairness in internationally monitored elections that led to democratic governments. HRNGOs contributed decisively to investigating past abuses and establishing institutional and, when possible, personal responsibilities for them. They were also instrumental in pushing for a restructuring of the armed forces, the abolition of compulsory conscription, and the creation or re-establishment of civilian police forces.

In the realm of foreign policy, very early in the transition process HRNGOs pushed for the prompt ratification of international human rights agreements such as the two Basic Covenants — the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) — as well as the inter-American human rights protection instruments (see tables 11.1 and 11.2). Although with reservations, most of the Latin American governments had signed the treaties; however, many had failed to ratify them. Human rights activists thought, correctly, that legislative ratification of these Covenants would serve as benchmarks and oblige governments to guarantee certain standards of respect that otherwise the newly established civilian authorities might not be willing — or able — to assure.

With the exception of Cuba, by 1998 all the other Latin American countries were ruled by democratically elected civilian authorities. Democracy has conferred broad legitimacy on civil and political rights as valid guiding principles for Latin American polities. Once again the written constitutions endorse liberal democracy. Unfortunately, in spite of the generalization of fairly elected civilian governments throughout the continent, human rights violations continue on a larger scale than one might expect. Democratic institutions are still weak: legislators are ill prepared, courts are inefficient, corruption is rampant in all branches of government and at all levels, and the dominant political culture still reveals troublesome authoritarian dimensions. The drastic economic liberalization policies favoured by the international financial institutions — commonly known as structural adjustment programmes — have been relatively successful in reducing inflation and spurring economic growth. The goal of reducing deficits, however, has been pursued by sharply reducing social spending — which was never very high to begin with. Poverty has grown throughout the continent, and the gap between rich and poor, the greatest of any region, has widened.

Citizen security has become a constant preoccupation for all sectors of Latin American societies, as is true in the newly democratizing states of Eastern Europe. Common crime, once confined to the poor neighbourhoods of the cities, today is prevalent and does not spare anyone. Drugs and drug trafficking compound the problem. In some countries such as Venezuela and Brazil, not to mention Colombia, the levels of violence have attained alarming levels. Among the worst human rights offenders are often the police forces. This police brutality is reinforced by an extremely inefficient judiciary, and by the middle classes' penchant for confusing poverty with criminality. In Brazil, for example, police have become notorious for killing marginalized Brazilians such as street children and landless peasants. Most victims are young, poor, and black. In Venezuela, democratically elected governments during the past 35 years have not been able to curb abuses. In fact, the number of human rights violations is increasing. This context undermines an emphasis on human rights, as many middle- and upper-class elements stress law and order rather than rights.

During the past decade, state-sponsored violence has receded even in countries such as Colombia, Mexico, and Peru where guerrillas are still active. Colombia is the Latin American country where the worst violations of the right to life and to physical integrity are taking place. Political violence, common crime, and drug trafficking appear closely intertwined. Assassinations, extrajudicial executions, kidnappings, disappearances, and forced displacements abound. The situation for human rights continues to deteriorate in general. This generalization may be less true in Guatemala, Haiti, and Peru where human rights violations were widespread, but the situation in these three countries has improved — at least at the time of writing. In Guatemala and Haiti, progress can be partially attributed to the presence of international observers. In Peru, the apparent defeat of the Shining Path guerrillas has reduced their capacity of exerting violence. Moreover, extrajudicial executions and disappearances have diminished. However, the levels of political violence are still too high even compared with other Latin American countries, and a lack of due process is prevalent. The treatment of prisoners continues to be a major issue, and the democratic process has been severely restricted. Mexico is going through its worst political crisis since the 1911 Revolution and one of the worst economic crises of the twentieth century. Standards of living markedly deteriorated in the late 1990s, while common crime has alarmingly increased. Police are among the most lawless of Mexican authorities. They are notoriously corrupt and brutal. According to Amnesty International, the Mexican army and other security forces have extensively used torture in Chiapas in their fight against the Zapatista rebels. 11 Political murder was obvious in early 1998.

The human rights situation in Cuba merits a special mention. Undoubtedly, the Cuban revolutionary government has made a considerable effort to advance the Cuban population's economic and social rights and to maintain them despite the hardships imposed by the demise of the socialist bloc and the tightening of the US economic embargo. However, the constant violation of Cubans' freedom of association and of expression, and the right to due process, is notorious. 12

It is not difficult to understand why human rights issues continue to be major concerns for most Latin American governments. However, by accepting international oversight, those Latin American governments most genuinely committed to improving their countries' human rights situation are using foreign policy as an additional instrument to try to consolidate liberal democracy. Along with information from HRNGOs, governments striving to be rights protective use international legal instruments as power resources in their struggle to control authoritarian circles and strengthen control over their reluctant armed and security forces.

III. Multilateral human rights policy

Priorities in the global debate

Since 1945 many Latin American states have shown shifting priorities in the global discourse on human rights. State foreign policies in the hemisphere have reflected a lively domestic debate about whether all rights are really interdependent, a view endorsed in numerous UN resolutions. Some believe priority should be given to the collective and mostly economic right to national development — a "right" approved by the UN General Assembly in 1986 but not codified in treaty law. Others believe that individual social and economic rights should take priority over civil and political rights. These two positions have been influenced by both Marxist theory and the rhetoric of third world solidarity. But others in Latin America endorse the traditional US position that civil and political rights are most important. Of course, military and other authoritarian governments have argued that it was necessary to suspend most human rights for the sake of "national security."

By the 1960s, a group of leading Latin American economists from the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC) — a subdivision within the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) — had coined a new theory of development. According to their central hypothesis, underdevelopment was not a "stage" — as classical economic theory argued — but had historically constituted the "necessary condition" for the growth and development of the colonial and neo-colonial powers. The theory went on to state that the basic mechanism for this occurrence had been a net transfer of wealth from the underdeveloped South to the developed North, as the decreasing ratio between the international prices of raw materials and the prices of manufactured goods clearly indicated. 13 There followed the strategy of forming international price cartels by the Southern countries, among which the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) became the better known and (temporarily) the most powerful. 14 These events fit with the growing demand for recognition of the "third-generation" right to development as a collective human right.

At the United Nations, demands for greater "international social justice" became the third world countries' rallying cry. First there was the creation of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), where the Group of 77 was formed with the mandate of articulating the concerns of the third world. Subsequently, at the General Assembly, the non-aligned countries became an important voting bloc. In both forums Latin American diplomacy — led frequently by Cuba, Mexico, and Venezuela — championed not only the right to development but also the idea of economic and social rights as a precondition for genuine respect of individual political and civil rights. 15

In the framework of North—South contradictions, socialist countries considered themselves objective allies of the developing countries and supported third world demands at the United Nations. By doing so they naturally furthered Washington's initial impulse to view the whole debate on economic and social rights as a communist plot.

The idea that the right to development should be guaranteed by the rich countries as reparation for past grievances informs the current discussion concerning the indivisibility between civil and political rights — which are most commonly accepted as human rights — and economic, social, and cultural rights — which many continue to characterize as goals and aspirations. However, the history briefly noted above — with Latin American states deeply involved in international diplomacy — clearly constitutes an important antecedent to the current discussion on the need to promote development strategies that do not curtail the realization of the whole array of human rights. The current international discourse on "sustainable human development" reflects this concern that attention to civil and political rights not exclude the socio-economic context — defined in terms of both individuals and nations.

By the end of the 1970s, the same intellectuals who had first advanced the idea of socio-economic rights in various forms were now being persecuted as communist agents by the military dictatorships that ruled their countries. The need for protecting basic civil and political rights became a matter of life and death and mobilized important sectors of international public opinion, particularly in Europe. In the United States, President Carter had put the issue of human rights at the forefront of his administration's foreign policy — at least in terms of rhetoric. In reality, his administration undertook many initiatives for civil and political rights in Latin America, as in Nicaragua under the Somoza dynasty. In the long term, despite all its inconsistencies, Carter's rhetoric in favour of human rights, plus several initiatives such as the attempted protection of prisoners in places like Chile and Argentina, changed the correlation of political forces in the hemisphere to the detriment of the principle of the supremacy of state sovereignty — and to the detriment of the "national security state" as practised by military elites.

With the end of the Cold War, the old argument that branded economic and social rights as the creation of communist governments — led by the Soviet Union — has become irrelevant. However, the protection of social, economic, and cultural rights continues to be largely neglected, today in the name of free markets. 16 The remaining challenge is how to design a viable and politically acceptable human rights strategy that effectively promotes the interrelatedness of the two sets of rights. 17 The challenge is especially difficult because the United States does not accept socio-economic rights as true human rights.

Today, all Latin American governments have signed and ratified the most important international human rights treaties — the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. With the exception of Cuba — which once accepted the 1948 American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man — all other Latin American and Caribbean governments have also ratified the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights. 18 Two Latin American governments, Costa Rica and Uruguay, were the first to propose, 50 years or so ago, the creation of a UN Human Rights High Commissioner. A Latin American diplomat, from Ecuador, became the first person to occupy the post created by the UN General Assembly in 1994 following the recommendation of the 1993 UN Vienna Conference on Human Rights. 19

The inter-American human rights system

If we look at political culture on a hemispheric or regional basis, and when we see that culture translated into regional international law, we can see that conflicts abound. The drive for democracy and rights-protective states, and even for a rigorous regional system for the protection of human rights, has been accompanied by many authoritarian governments and much brutal repression. The latter elements were frequently supported by Washington in the name of freedom from communism. Thus there has been a profound conflict in Latin America between liberal and illiberal elements. At the close of the twentieth century, liberal elements held the upper hand.

During February and March 1945, at the Inter-American Conference on Problems of War and Peace, the governments of the Americas declared their adherence to the principles of international law guaranteeing the essential rights of man and appointed a commission of jurists to draft an American Declaration. 20 The inter-American system of human rights protection and promotion formally materialized in 1948 alongside the Organization of American States (OAS), when the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man was approved in Bogota, Colombia.

At that time, most pro-fascist dictators had been replaced in Latin America by well-meaning civilian democrats who, confident in the virtues of liberal democracy, were genuinely interested in promoting rights-protective countries. To a great extent, the first steps to establish an

inter-American system of human rights were taken as symbolic gestures signalling Latin American support for Western democratic values. Subsequently, liberal democracy and the accompanying belief in human rights would become pawns in the East-West superpower rivalry. Democracy became equated with anti-communism and the protection of human rights was superseded by national security considerations. Regional freedom from communism was accompanied by the suppression of individual freedom within many Latin countries.

The hemisphere went through its first Cold War crisis in 1954: Washington suspected President Arbenz of Guatemala of harbouring communist sympathizers and saw his reformist policies as threats to freedom in the Americas. The United States sought the support of Latin American governments for a series of diplomatic sanctions against the Arbenz regime, which it obtained in exchange for the Eisenhower administration's commitment to increased economic aid to the region. Despite the fact that Arbenz had been elected in relatively free and fair elections, the Central Intelligence Agency organized the overthrow of Arbenz and supported the establishment of brutal military government, a chain of events endorsed by most neighbouring states.

As is well known, a second Cold War confrontation in the Americas centred on Cuba, beginning with Castro's revolutionary triumph in Cuba in January 1959, and peaking in October 1962 with the missile crisis. In August 1959, when foreign ministers from the OAS member states convened in Santiago de Chile during their Fifth Consultative Meeting, Fidel Castro had neither openly adhered to Marxism—Leninism, nor declared his regime's allegiance to the socialist bloc. However, his pervasive anti-imperialistic rhetoric, wide-ranging populist measures, the arbitrary and harsh treatment meted out to former supporters of the deposed Batista regime, and the general absence of due process were considered ominous signs by Washington. This perception was shared by most other governments in the region. As in 1954, hemispheric governments elevated fear of reform movements and deference to Washington over tolerance of political diversity. There was also genuine fear that Castro would indeed move toward communism and an alliance with the Soviet Union. This fear allowed Kennedy to present a united regional front to Khrushchev during the missile crisis. Traditional Latin suspicions of Washington's intentions were somewhat appeased by President Kennedy's Alliance for Progress, which at least promised the foreign assistance Latin American governments had been demanding since the end of the Second World War.

In the midst of these Cold War tensions, hemispheric states created the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 1959. If the objective were to avoid radical political and social revolutions that would lead to "other Cubas," an international legal instrument guaranteeing the protection of human rights was widely seen as useful. The Inter-American Human Rights Commission was created by a plurality of votes, with the declared goal of offering legal options to counter tyranny and oppression. It is composed of independent experts rather than state representatives. As such, the Commission was seen as an interim solution — until an Inter-American Court of Human Rights could be created. 21 The 1969 Inter-American Human Rights Convention — legally in force for consenting states since 1978 — finally established the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The Convention incorporated the Commission's role, without precluding the Commission from acting apart from the Convention.

To date, the Commission has been the most active organ of the inter-American regime for the protection of human rights. This is not only because of its independent membership, but also because, as part of the OAS, it has jurisdiction over human rights matters apart from the regional Convention on Human Rights. A number of states have failed to accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court. The Commission, although lacking supreme and binding authority, has nevertheless carried out many investigations and issued many reports. This was true, for example, of the Commission's response to complaints of human rights violations in Argentina (prior to Buenos Aires' ratification of the Convention in 1984); in Brazil (a few months before Brasilia's ratification of the treaty); and even in Cuba (whose membership in the OAS was suspended in 1963 and which today is the only country in Latin America and the Caribbean that has not ratified the Inter-American Human Rights Convention). Latin American governments, however, have never authorized the Commission to deploy human rights observer missions. The OAS currently sends electoral observers to member states, but has never established human rights observer missions. 22

The inter-American human rights regime has not been as effective as its companion system under the Council of Europe. During the Cold War, the hemisphere manifested numerous governments that elevated suppression of "leftist" movements over defence of human rights — to a much greater extent than in Europe. Washington's security concerns in the hemisphere led it to support this repression — again to a much greater extent than in Europe. The inter-American regime, essentially an intergovernmental system with pockets of uninstructed officials, was ineffective at eliminating gross violations of human rights by its member states. 23 However, if the inter-American system of human rights protection had been less than fully effective as an instrument for enforcing compliance from governments, its diplomatic usefulness became clear when its reports helped denounce and isolate the governments with the worst human rights records. Indeed, among the finest hours of the Commission were the 1978 and 1980 reports presented at the respective OAS annual assemblies. Thus the Commission served as a focal point for all those circles resisting repression.

Between 1975 and 1989/90, of 267 cases cited in the Commission's annual reports, the governments of Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, Peru, and Cuba were the most frequently named, closely followed by the governments of Bolivia, Haiti, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Paraguay — with more than 10 citations each. 24 The Commission has also acknowledged two complaints, in 1988 and 1989, by the National Action Party (PAN) against the government of Mexico, concerning the violation of political rights as well as their right to due process. A complaint from the Yanomani Indians against the government of Brazil concerning the violation of their rights has been recognized as valid too. 25 Although the Mexican government ratified the Convention in 1982, and Brasilia did 10 years later, neither government has yet accepted the jurisdiction of the Court. 26 Such situations highlight the continuing role of the Commission.

Ironically, with the spread of democratic government in the region, the caseload of the Commission and the Court has increased rather than declined. The Court has ruled 17 times on cases concerning Peru (4), Honduras (3), Argentina (2), Guatemala (2), Surinam (2), and Venezuela, Nicaragua, Colombia, and El Salvador (1 each). Peru, Honduras, Surinam, and Colombia have been condemned to reparations. Of the 17 rulings of the Court, 8 were issued between 1986 and 1992, and 5 were issued in 1995.

For its part, the Commission has remained highly active. For example, it organized extensive consultations on a Declaration of Indigenous Rights. The Canadian Bar Association, the American Anthropological Association, and the World Council of Indigenous Peoples, among others, were invited to discuss the draft, which should soon be presented at the OAS General Assembly for its approval. Concerning women's rights, the Commission has named a special Rapporteur to establish if domestic legislation and actual legislative and political practices truly guarantee the rights of women according to American legal instruments. 27 The Commission's report on the status of women's rights will make recommendations to the governments for improving their standards, particularly concerning the protection of women subject to domestic violence.

Hemispheric states also inject human rights in the summit diplomacy of the Americas, the other important multilateral forum in the Western hemisphere. Within the agenda put forward by the Plan of Action signed in December 1994 by the participating heads of state and government at the hemispheric summit in Miami, a Working Group on Democracy and Human Rights was established, coordinated by the governments of Brazil and Canada with the assistance of the OAS. This group concentrated on four key areas: developing democratic culture, encouraging greater transparency and the rule of law, strengthening electoral processes, and establishing priorities for the promotion of human rights. Thus the working group signalled the region's interest in improving the quality of democracy as the best way of protecting and promoting human rights.

Now that the hemisphere manifests more genuine or aspiring liberal democracies, the regional system is working better and may begin to approximate its European model. The key to regional protection is the absence at the national level of abusive regimes that refuse to be bound by the rule of law. Liberal democratic governments, in essence respectful of the rule of law and of their citizens' fundamental civil and political rights, are more amenable to accepting the regional — and global — human rights protection mechanisms and view them as compatible with domestic objectives. There is thus less tension between claims to human rights and claims to state sovereignty. The Latin American countries' commitment to the inter-American human rights system is made evident by the increasing — albeit still largely inadequate — budgetary allocations for the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and Court. 28 Furthermore, some governments are using these international mechanisms to strengthen democratic control over military and security forces. The policy of the Colombian government is a case in point. President Samper has requested the presence of an international human rights observer mission in an attempt to strengthen the executive's capacity to monitor and check human rights violations in its territory.

Latin American new political regionalism: Protecting democracy and improving its quality

Democratically elected leaders are genuinely trying to close the gap between the internationally recognized human rights to which their countries have subscribed and actual governmental agencies' everyday practice. 29 As indicated above, this quest is made difficult by several factors: economic conditions, political history, and bastions of illiberalism, particularly in military circles. Awareness of domestic and regional deficiencies in the human rights field has caused most Latin American states to eschew an activist foreign policy on most global issues.

The region's historical economic weakness and lack of financial autonomy have reinforced the dominant pattern of "small-state" reactive diplomacy, basically concerned with keeping foreigners at bay. Following the realist paradigm, which the majority of Latin American foreign policy establishments have favoured, national interest has indeed been equated with the pursuit of state power — defined in terms of national autonomy. Latin American solidarity has been seen as an important foreign policy tool by most countries; collective diplomacy has been sought, as a means of defending common interests against foreign encroachment. Fear of Washington's intervention is legendary.

Consistent with this tradition, Latin American democratic regimes today have not established activist foreign policies on most global human rights issues. A state like Costa Rica may take some initiatives on human rights education in the UN Human Rights Commission, but most Latin and Caribbean states tend to focus their foreign policies on human rights on two subjects: application of international standards in the domestic legal order, and the workings of the regional human rights system.

Despite important progress, consolidating the rule of law is still an aspiration for most hemispheric societies, and the protection of human rights continues to be an important issue in domestic policies. Although only Cuba among hemispheric states is under the scrutiny of the UN Human Rights Commission, it has been well documented that countries such as Peru (which paradoxically has recently been elected by ECOSOC to the Commission 30), Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia, inter alia, have serious problems of human rights abuses. 31

Realistically aware of the remaining power of the armed forces, Latin American civilian leaders have tried to use regional institutions to protect liberal democracy in the various nations. Yet they remain trapped by their traditions. Although the OAS voted in September 1994 to support Father Aristide as the rightfully elected leader of Haiti in the face of military opposition, the OAS still could not bring itself to endorse a US-led use of force to guarantee democratic governance. Washington had to turn to the United Nations, rather than to the OAS, to secure a resolution authorizing "all necessary means" — meaning the use of force. Latin states were in favour of democratic government, but not in favour of legitimizing yet another use of force in the region by Washington. The same pattern had played out earlier when President Bush deployed force in Panama, arguably in favour of the elected Endara government and against the authoritarian Noriega government. With some justification, the OAS refused to endorse that use of force either. Thus the OAS has certainly gone on record in favour of liberal democracy, but not so clearly in favour of the use of force to secure or defend various manifestations of liberal or almost-liberal democracy.

The background to this tension merits summary. The OAS's 1991 Santiago Declaration committed hemispheric governments diplomatically to support any elected regime threatened by hostile forces. The Santiago commitment has since been reaffirmed by the Washington Protocol, which provides for the expulsion of a state from the OAS in the event of the overthrow of a democratic regime, and the Managua Protocol, which commits member states to the active promotion and consolidation of democracy and to preventive efforts against threats to democratic regimes. This evolving regime of democracy protection proved to be an effective deterrent in Guatemala in 1991 when the elected president himself sought the support of the armed forces against the elected Congress. 32 In a volte-face, Washington was a staunch opponent of this auto-golpe. The OAS was less successful in Peru in 1992 when President Fujimori attempted something similar. However, after condemning the coup, the OAS was able to send a fact-finding mission. Diplomatic pressure was instrumental in convincing President Fujimori to accelerate his original timetable and convene a Constituent Assembly that would restore democratic legitimacy to his government. Nevertheless, Peruvian democracy remains quite imperfect by liberal standards.

There are other examples of Latin diplomacy working for liberal democracy. In Central America, much Latin diplomacy has been directed not just to simple peace but to a liberal democratic peace. During the 1980s, the governments of Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela, opposing the Reagan administration's policy towards Central America, formed the Contadora Group. They were soon joined by the governments of Peru, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. According to most analysts, this Contadora diplomacy was instrumental in slowing down the militarization of the Central American conflicts. Although its mediation effort was not fully successful, it laid the groundwork for the subsequent Central American negotiated peace settlement — a settlement linked to the goal of liberal democracy in places such as Nicaragua and El Salvador. The eight Latin American foreign ministers of Contadora and its Support Group — along with the UN and OAS secretaries-general — formed the first verification commission of the Esquipulas II agreement.

The Rio Group, which succeeded Contadora, now includes all South American governments — plus Central American and Caribbean participation based on a rotation system. The Rio Group constitutes an important venue for Latin American and Caribbean multilateral diplomacy, where democratically elected heads of state and government periodically confer. The underlying theme of the high-level gatherings has been how to address their countries' current security concerns (drug trafficking, money laundering, corruption, common crime) effectively from a liberal democratic perspective. 33

Mercosur, South America's regional integration treaty, has a "democracy clause" that automatically suspends any country's participation in the regional arrangement in the event of a military coup. 34 A timely intervention by Brazil's and Argentina's foreign ministers was crucial in avoiding a military coup in Paraguay in 1995.

The Ibero-American summits — the periodic gatherings of all Latin American and Iberian heads of state — have also made a practice of explicitly subscribing to the principles of representative democracy and explicitly evoking the rights of free speech, religion, and assembly. The summits have become important venues allowing Latin American governments to implement an activist stand in promoting human rights in Cuba. During the 1996 Ibero-American summit in Vina del Mar, by signing the final joint declaration, Fidel Castro committed himself to the respect of these rights. In the future his peers will undoubtedly try to hold him accountable for his promise.

Although the great majority of Latin American and Caribbean governments object to the US Helms—Burton legislation, which seeks to punish those parties using expropriated American property in Cuba in profit-making activity, and have opposed the broader US economic embargo against Cuba for several years, they are withholding full admission for Cuba into the most important regional integration arrangements in the name of the "democracy clause." Most Latin states, however, have resumed diplomatic and consular bilateral relations with Cuba.

IV. Two examples: Costa Rican and Argentinian foreign policies and human rights

Historical background and domestic constraints only partially explain Latin American policy behaviour. International determinants are also important factors to take into account. Among them, US foreign policy has historically constituted the external variable par excellence. Insofar as human rights have been an important theme of the United States' foreign policy, Latin American governments have tended to address human rights first and foremost as a component of their overall relationship with Washington. As far as human rights are concerned, neither Costa Rica's nor Argentina's foreign policies, although quite different in content, constitute exceptions.

Costa Rica's principled diplomacy

Economic conditions and the country's geographic isolation during the colonial era created the foundations for the establishment of a fairly democratic and stable political order during the republican era. Many Costa Ricans owned land — very small parcels in most cases — but private ownership and the ensuing shortage of labour helped blur class lines quite significantly. To a great extent, the economic system led to a greater tolerance of others and a suspicion of extremes in political affairs. Additionally, unlike many areas of the Spanish empire, where the Church acted as a repressive force, fostering social stratification, in Costa Rica the Church remained weak throughout the colonial era. When independence from Spain was declared, in 1823, basic forms of political, economic, and social institutions, allowing for evolution toward a form of capitalistic democracy in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, were in place. There were problems of race, economic disparity, and social stratification, but they were relatively mild compared with other parts of Central America. The long and destructive struggles that plagued other Latin American governments never afflicted Costa Rica, thus reducing the core international powers' rationale for intervention.

Influenced by nineteenth-century liberalism, the leaders of the Costa Rican ruling class promoted many of their ideas in the Constitution of 1871, a very progressive document even by contemporary standards. Costa Rican elites shared a commitment to expanded education and political opportunities and the separation of church and state. They abolished capital punishment, created a tolerance for non-Catholic religions unparalleled in the region, improved educational opportunities, and allowed for journals and newspapers to thrive.

Costa Rica's democratic development quickened in the first part of the twentieth century. Direct election of the president was introduced in 1913. After General Rodrigo Tinoco's short-lived military dictatorship (1917-1919), reformers created a national agency to monitor elections (1925), established the secret ballot (1928), and made voting compulsory (1936). Electoral fraud was not fully eradicated until 1948, but elections became more meaningful.

The military was never a powerful institution, and its weakness removed another repressive force that undercut democratic development in other Central American republics. In 1918, Costa Rica's military had 5,000 soldiers and 700 policemen. By the mid-1940s, its military had shrunk to only 300 soldiers, with a police force of just over 1,100.

By 1940, when Costa Ricans abandoned the classic liberal political model and tried to implement a reformist agenda, the realities and myths surrounding Costa Rica's historical development had created a belief among most US observers that in its political, social, and economic institutions Costa Rica more closely resembled the United States than most countries in Latin America. 35 The Costa Rican government of Dr. Rafael Calderon Guardia enacted a very progressive labour code, and created social security and public health systems with the support of the local communist party without arousing major opposition from the Roosevelt administration.

Although Calderon's government enjoyed some autonomy in domestic policies, in international affairs it chose firmly to support the Allies throughout the Second World War, accommodating US demands on issues such as the handling of German and Italian nationals and the question of diplomatic recognition of Peronist Argentina. By the end of the war the Calderon government had placed more than 200 people of German and Italian descent in internment camps in the United States. 36 Costa Rica's policy towards other Central American republics had historically been ambivalent. Costa Rican elites, uneasy with the authoritarian practices favoured by their neighbours, had oscillated from cautious engagement to outright isolationism. Calderon Guardia's own authoritarian bent led him to establish a very close relationship with General Anastasio Somoza, the Nicaraguan strongman.

The results of the 1948 presidential elections, unfavourable to a second Calderon candidacy, were annulled. This was the last of a series of violent incidents that had marred the political scene since the end of the war. Under the leadership of Jose Figueres Ferrer (Don Pepe), the democratic opposition organized a successful armed uprising. Don Pepe's ideas had a profound impact on his country's policies and political culture.

In his book Ideario Costarricense (1943), Figueres had outlined a proactive engagement in favour of democratic movements fighting against the dictatorships in Latin America as the most important goal of the foreign policy implemented by a truly democratic government. The new Constitution, which was voted during his first term, was very much influenced by his social democratic ideology. The document acknowledged the state's responsibility for stimulating production and promoting the equitable distribution of wealth. It mandated the creation of autonomous government agencies to guide and regulate the economy and social services programmes and created a civil service. The Constitution also established the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, with the rank of "fourth branch of government," extended suffrage to women, and ended legal discrimination against blacks from the Limon area. In 1949, a constitutional amendment ratified the December 1948 Provisional Junta's decree abolishing the armed forces.

In December 1947, Figueres, along with exiled leaders from Nicaragua, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic, had signed the Caribbean Pact and created the Caribbean Legion, a political alliance aimed at overthrowing the region's dictators. Despite Figueres' claims that Costa Rica constituted the weakest link in the dictatorial chain, the group chose to concentrate its efforts against the Dominican Republic's dictator. Only after Trujillo defeated an invasion in early 1948 did the Legion turned its attention toward assisting Figueres in Costa Rica. 37 Jose Figueres and his party Liberacion Nacional would not forget their friends on the democratic left. 38

Needless to say, Figueres' aid to the Caribbean Legion was a potent irritant to successive US administrations, which considered his alliance with the group and support of its activities as a threat to the region's status quo. The attacks on Washington's dictatorial allies in the Caribbean Basin diverted American attention and energy away from more important matters in Asia and Europe. Despite the pressures to abandon his friends, Figueres continued to assist the Legion's attempts to establish democratic governments in the region, justifying his work as "moral and necessary." 39

According to the Costa Rican Constitution, foreign policy is the purview of the president of the Republic and the relevance of its profile has depended on the type of presidential leadership. As a general rule, Figueres and subsequent presidents from the Liberacion Nacional party have had more active foreign policies than other parties' presidents. In the absence of a professional diplomatic corps, the only other important figure in foreign policy decision-making has traditionally been the minister of foreign affairs. 40

Figueres' successor, Otilio Ulate (1949-1953) abandoned the anti-dictatorial crusade and, like previous Costa Rican governments, backed Washington's initiatives at the United Nations as well as the OAS. It was during his administration that Costa Rican diplomats began explicitly referring to "absolute respect of human rights" as one of the goals of their country's foreign policy, and framing their anti-communist stance as well as their anti-colonialist and anti-apartheid policies in those terms. 41 At the OAS, Costa Rican diplomats played an important role in the creation of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which was recognized by the inter-American community when it decided to locate the Court in San Jose.

Without abandoning altogether their country's traditional position against military dictatorships, Francisco Orlich's government (1958-1962), Figueres' third administration (1970-1974), and Oduber's government (1974-1978) focused their foreign policy on North—South issues. At a time when most countries were ruled by military governments, Costa Rica would have been almost totally isolated. During his last administration, Figueres even abandoned his practice of withholding diplomatic recognition of de facto governments, but allowed his country to become a safe haven for South American and Central American political refugees. Daniel Oduber Quiros, who would later become a prominent leader of the International Socialists, along with presidents Luis Echeverría from Mexico, Carlos Andres Perez from Venezuela, and Alfonso Lopez Michelsen from Colombia (the only remaining civilian leaders in Latin America at the time), set up an informal "foreign policy coalition." The goal of this informal group was to foster democratic solidarity while supporting the creation of a new international economic order more favourable to the third world.

The Nicaraguan insurgency revitalized Costa Rica's anti-dictatorial sentiments and Costa Rica became not only a safe haven but also a very important source of support for the Sandinista rebels. The day Somoza abandoned Managua, all the churches in Costa Rica tolled their bells. On 19 July 1978, every Costa Rican was a Sandinista. President Carazo's administration, although not a Liberacion one, opted for an activist foreign policy along the lines established by his predecessor. For example, Costa Rica became an observer at the Non-Aligned Movement, recognized the Polisario Front, and established diplomatic relations with most of the African and Asian countries. The traditional human rights discourse was toned down in favour of more contemporary third world concerns.

President Monge (1982-1986) was the opposite. He inherited a disastrous domestic economic situation at a time when Washington had declared war on the Sandinista regime. President Monge allowed the United States to train anti-Sandinista combatants on the Costa Rican northern border and an increased militarization of the country's police forces. His government abandoned the social democratic alliance, which would henceforward be known as the Contadora Group, and opted for an unconditional diplomatic alignment with the Reagan administration. In compensation, the country's external debt was successfully renegotiated and aid from the US government flowed generously, which undoubtedly eased the pain inflicted on the middle classes and the popular sectors by stabilization and structural adjustment policies implemented by his government.

Not everyone in Costa Rica approved of Monge's foreign policy choices. Public opinion was extremely divided. An important section — including former President Figueres — strongly opposed them and proposed to declare Costa Rica's neutrality in order to reverse the country's increasing involvement in the Central American wars. According to them, this would allow for appeasement with the Sandinistas without having to condone Nicaragua's growing authoritarianism.

Oscar Arias (1986-1990) proposed a different foreign policy course to his countrymen. The Arias Plan sought to complement Costa Rica's non-involvement in the region's conflicts, not with traditional Costa Rican isolationism, but with an active search for regional peace and democracy. One of the most innovative aspects of the peace framework proposed by Arias, which the other Central American leaders accepted in the Esquipulas Accord, was their commitment to respect human rights and hold internationally observed elections. Guaranteeing respect for democracy and human rights was therefore made a regional priority. 42

At home, President Arias instigated legal reforms giving the people new instruments to demand respect for their rights. He successfully proposed the creation of a new constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court where anyone could directly complain if they thought that their rights had been violated.

His successor, Jose María Figueres Olsen (Don Pepe's son), constructed his foreign policy around the theme of sustainable development and thus introduced the idea of environmental rights into the equation. The Central American presidents established a Sustainable Development Regional Alliance (ALIDES), which has become one of the cornerstones of the integration process. In the Alliance, the signing governments pledge themselves to a wide range of new policies that interpret sustainable development to include improved social equity, expanded democratic political participation, and increased respect for cultural, gender, and human rights, in addition to ecological sustainability.

Argentina's nationalism and foreign policy

Argentina was also an isolated backwater in the Spanish American colonial empire. But unlike Costa Rica, which exported coffee and bananas, Argentina supplied Western Europe with the foodstuffs it needed. The pampas, among the most fertile lands in the world, were exactly what was required to produce the grains and meat the new industrialized countries needed to feed themselves. Great Britain, Argentina's principal customer until the 1950s, supplied the capital in the form of investment in the railroads, docks, packing houses, and public utilities. Foreign investment also came in the form of British firms that handled insurance, shipping, and banking. Like Costa Rica, Argentina was underpopulated. The badly needed workers came from southern Europe, primarily Spain and Italy. By 1914, approximately 30 per cent of the Argentinian population was foreign born (13 per cent in the United States).

The high degree of foreign economic involvement became a target for Argentine nationalists. Dependence on foreign resources also contributed to on-going Argentine self-doubt about the country's capabilities of achieving a more self-sufficient economy and an authentic "national" culture. This self-doubt has permeated Argentina's foreign policy until very recently.

The 1912 electoral reform gave all Argentine males over 18 years of age the right to vote. At the time only 1 million qualified. The electoral laws excluded women — women would be given the right to vote in 1946 by Peron — and also left outside the political system at least half of the male adult population who had not undergone naturalization. Voting was mandatory, and voter participation was generally high: 70-80 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots in presidential elections. 43 Unfortunately, electoral fraud and demagoguery were widespread.

In 1930, the slow progress achieved since the 1912 electoral reform was halted and civilian democracy was overthrown by a military coup. Under the leadership of General Jose F. Uruburu, a first attempt at establishing a corporate state was made. It was not completely successful this time, and civilian politics had to be partially reinstated.

As the war spread in Europe in the early 1940s and the Axis armies seemed invincible, the Argentine military longed for a steady, sure leadership in their own land. Congress was dissolved in 1943, the end of political parties was decreed in 1944, and very few civilians were allowed to serve in the government. In 1946, General Juan Domingo Peron, former Labour Secretary and Minister of Defence of the military governments, won the elections by a landslide.

Internationally the Argentine military refused to join the US military-led effort, opting for a "neutrality" that would allow them to continue selling essential foodstuffs to Britain while withholding their political and military allegiance during the hostilities. Argentina finally declared war on Germany barely a few months before the Third Reich armies were crushed by the Allies.

Peron reorganized the state following corporatist principles. He also reduced foreign influence in the economy. In 1946 he reorganized the Central Bank so as to increase control over all foreign-owned monetary assets. In 1948 his government nationalized the British-owned railways, still the heart of the national transportation system. Also nationalized was the leading telephone company (US-controlled ITT) and the French-owned dock facilities. In July 1947, Argentina had paid off its entire foreign debt, which according to Peron amounted to a "declaration of economic independence." He was re-elected in 1951, thanks to the overwhelming support of newly enfranchised women voters and of the working classes.

In 1953, Peron's second term was abruptly terminated by his fellow officers outraged by his government's increasing reliance on labour, the most radical sector of his movement.

A new attempt at ending military rule began with the 1958 presidential election. The victor was Arturo Frondizi, who had mounted an aggressively nationalistic campaign and had been able to attract some Peronist support. He was ousted by the military two years before the end of his term. Arturo Illía, elected in 1963, after a previous election had been annulled by the armed forces, was also ousted by the military three years later. Apart from a three-year Peronist hiatus (1973-1976), the armed forces would govern Argentina for the next 13 years. The military would prove to be the worst human rights abuser in the history of the South American country.

In spite of their very narrow margin of autonomy vis-à-vis the military, the two civilian presidents, Frondizi and Illía, were able to conduct fairly independent foreign policies. There were two basic foreign policy themes: the right to self-determination and economic nationalism. Neither support for human rights nor buttressing democratic regimes was compatible with the principle of non-intervention. Frondizi invoked only the right to self-determination during the main foreign policy crisis of his administration: the Cuban revolution. The Argentines abstained in the OAS when Cuba's membership was suspended in 1962 at the VII consultative meeting of ministers of foreign affairs of the OAS member states. A few months later, however, Frondizi was obliged to severe diplomatic ties with Havana, pressured by the Argentine armed forces, which were interested in accessing US military aid at the time. President Illía would invoke the same principles during the Dominican crisis. Like most other Latin American governments, rather than condone US unilateral intervention in the Caribbean island, the Argentinian government voted for the formation of an inter-American force, but the Argentine military did not participate. 44 In 1964, the Argentinians became observers at the Non-Aligned Movement, the principal third world forum.

The second important theme of both civilian presidents' foreign policy was that of economic nationalism. Argentine diplomacy was an articulator of the region's stance at the first UNCTAD as well as a proponent of the OAS's Latin American Economic Commission. Social and economic claims were integral components of the policy, but they were stated on behalf of the collective — the nation — not of the individual.

During the military dictatorship, the main goal of foreign policy was to conceal from the outside world and/or to justify the excesses committed in the name of "national security doctrine." The tense relations with Washington following President's Carter decision to suspend US military aid, loan guarantees, and donations were little by little replaced by a "pacific coexistence." The business community lobbied hard in both countries for more flexibility from both ends. 45 The Argentine military agreed to allow the OAS Commission to send a fact-finding mission. In exchange, Washington authorized a multi-million credit from the Eximbank for the purchase of US-made turbines for the hydroelectric project of Yacitera.

In a gesture of defiance, the Argentine military had refused to join the US-sponsored trade embargo against the USSR following the invasion of Afghanistan. Moscow had become one of Argentina's main trading partners and also one of Buenos Aires' main supporters in the United Nations in favour of its claims for non-intervention. In spite of the increasingly close relationship between Argentina and the USSR — and despite President Reagan's staunch anti-communism — his administration made the Argentine military its South American closest ally. The Argentine military were sent to Central America as advisers in counter-insurgency. Most observers agree that it was the warm relationship the Argentine military government had developed with the Reagan administration that led General Galtieri to suppose he would have at least Washington's tacit support after invading the Malvinas/Falkland Islands.

The Argentine armed forces' debacle precipitated the demise of the military regime. Raul Alfonsín, the Radical Party's candidate, surprisingly won by a landslide. Domestically his priority was to consolidate democracy, particularly by establishing firm civilian control over the military.

The new regime faced serious problems. First was the commitment to prosecute the military personnel and police who had killed or disappeared more than 10,000 suspects. Alfonsín owed his election to this commitment and to the Argentinian people's demands for justice. The new civilian government had to face impossibly thorny questions: Where did the criminal responsibility end? How many officers should be brought to trial? and the biggest unknown of all: Would the civilian government survive such an attempt? The second major problem was the economy. The country could not make the payments on its huge foreign debt and in 1983 inflation had reached 400 percent. Despite the repression, the Peronist labour unions still yielded considerable power, so economic policy based on "shock therapy" was impossible to implement. The third major problem for Alfonsín was to build a strong power base that would allow him to confront the two other challenges faced by his government.

Foreign policy was a key element of Alfonsín's survival strategy. Risking the loss of the much-needed US government support to conclude successful negotiations with the international financial institutions, he chose to set an independent course for Argentina concerning the Central American wars that was closer to European and other Latin American foreign policies than to Washington. Alfonsín and his foreign minister, Dante Caputo, thought that a firm international stand in favour of democracy, pluralism, human dignity, and human rights achieved through political negotiations was the best way to use foreign policy as a tool in their quest to strengthen civilian control over the military. Concerning human rights specifically, the Argentine Congress ratified the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights in 1986.

Alfonsín's government charged the nine military commanders-in-chief for crimes ranging from murder to rape. Five were convicted and given prison terms. Three of the four acquitted were later tried by military justice and sentenced to prison. However, a military revolt in 1987 protesting against the impending prosecutions forced Congress to exempt all officers below the rank of General and several attempted coups convinced Alfonsín of the need to implement appeasement strategies vis-à-vis the military or risk a bloodbath. 46

Alfonsín's successor, Carlos Menem, chose to concentrate domestically on the economic restructuring that would inevitably pitch him against the still powerful trade unions. He decided to pardon the military. He needed the political space to attack the economic paralysis. Several months after taking office he issued sweeping pardons for participants in previous military revolts and in December 1990 he pardoned the former leaders of the military government and commuted their sentences. One of the goals of these measures was to change his country's international image to one of a mature democracy and for that he needed a functioning economy.

In his foreign policy, Menem chose to abandon Argentina's traditional non-interventionist stance and distance from US foreign policy and, on the contrary (like Costa Rica), chose to align himself closely with Washington's policies. His government dropped all militaristic aspects of foreign policy. The Argentine military participated in the UN-endorsed Persian Gulf war effort and since have participated extensively in peace-keeping operations and international observer missions. The Menem government also signed and ratified the Treaty of Tlatelolco — declaring Latin America a nuclear-free zone — and has thus abandoned Argentina's nuclear policy.

President Menem actively supported the UN embargo against the military dictatorship in Haiti, and Argentina is the only major Latin American country that has not objected to the Helms—Burton legislation against Cuba. In exchange for Argentina's support, President Clinton declared the South American country a major non-NATO ally, a distinction long coveted by the Menem administration. Argentina's alignment with Washington's policies and its belonging to the West is not questioned any more. However, human rights have not become a primary concern for the Menem government. Once very active, the domestic human rights movement has been declining since the 1990s, which might explain why the government's domestic record is not as good as it should be.

While human rights abuses have not completely disappeared (although they continue to diminish), in the economic realm the structural adjustment and stabilization policies have taken a very heavy toll on the standards of living of most Argentinians. Journalists reporting on government corruption are still being intimidated — the assassination of one photo-journalist prompted massive popular demonstrations demanding a thorough investigation and full disclosure. In 1997, Amnesty International cited reports of torture and ill-treatment of detainees in police custody, and of killings by the police suggesting possible extrajudicial executions. According to the same source, widespread demonstrations against government economic policies were routinely forcibly dispersed by police who beat and ill-treated demonstrators. 47 Increased police accountability and a more efficient judiciary are considered to be pressing needs by the vast majority of the Argentine public.

Contrary to the region's foreign policy tradition, in the 1940s Costa Rica's reformist leaders chose to protect their state-centred political model from outside intervention by espousing some of the most important US foreign policy concerns. Faced with such an overwhelming power asymmetry, they soon realized that the only way of shielding themselves from outside intervention was by becoming a preferred US ally — certainly the best Central American one.

Argentines, who for a long time cherished regional power ambitions, confronted with the superpower's own hegemonic designs chose to protect themselves from foreign powers, championing the cause of non-intervention in the internal affairs of the American republics. For most of the twentieth century Argentina's diplomacy tried to enshrine the principles of non-intervention and the right to self-determination in the inter-American system, but, lacking the power resources to impose them, Argentina's foreign policy makers never transcended the legal and rhetorical dimensions. Today, Argentine civilian governments, particularly President Menem's, have adopted a foreign policy strategy very similar to the one favoured by Costa Rica's leaders during most of the twentieth century. Argentina's economic privatization reforms and its peace-oriented foreign policy, along with a very friendly attitude towards most of Washington's diplomatic initiatives, have earned the country the status of a non-NATO major ally of the United States. The Argentine government was an early supporter of international intervention in Haiti, and the country's armed forces have been part of a great number of UN peacekeeping operations. Clearly breaking with the past, Argentina has been one of the most outspoken Latin American critics of Cuba's human rights violations. Ironically, Costa Rica has kept a lower profile in its criticism of Castro's regime, and has recently established a desk at the Spanish Embassy in Havana, uncharacteristically opting to distance itself from US policy.

V. In sum

In the post-Cold War era, a process of conversion from the imperative of state security to an aspiration for human security is slowly taking shape in Latin America. The region's traditional perception of its extreme vulnerability to foreign intervention is being gradually replaced by a more confident relationship with the international system. Most of the countries seem quite comfortable in an interdependent world and a wide spectrum of sectors in Latin American societies are willing to accept a diminished sovereignty in exchange for enhanced human security. Instead of seeing the international system as a source of threats, following in the footsteps of HRNGOs the region's democracies are increasingly considering it a source of power and learning to use it to their advantage. For example, civilian governments often invoke the international human rights covenants and ask for assistance — human rights monitors, electoral observers — from the international community in order to eradicate the authoritarian pockets still remaining in Latin American societies and polities.

Latin American human rights foreign policies are being conceived as key components of democratic consolidation. They are used either as devices to extract power resources from the international system for strictly domestic purposes, or as elements of a multilateral and regional strategy for maintaining representative democracy as the region's preferred form of governance.


Note 1: Elaine Pagels, Adam, Eve and the Serpent (New York: Random House, 1988).  Back.

Note 2: More recently the 1984 Cartagena Declaration concerning Central American refugees further codifies the practice.  Back.

Note 3: Ligia Bolívar, "Los Organismos de Derechos Humanos en Venezuela," in Hugo Fru®hling, ed., Derechos Humanos y Democracia. La Contribucion de las Organizaciones no Gubernamentales (Santiago, Chile: Instituto Interamericano de Derechos Humanos, 1991), 225  Back.

Note 4: In December 1984, an international conference met in Cartagena de Indias (Colombia) to look for viable solutions to better address the problem of refugees and displaced persons in Central America and Mexico. In their final declaration, the governments represented at the conference (22, including 10 Latin American ones not directly implicated in the conflict) had already accepted a broader responsibility of the international community concerning the populations in distress: refugees, internally displaced, and people without documents.  Back.

Note 5: Mexico accepted more than 50,000 Central American refugees, primarily from Guatemala's indigenous communities, and through the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (Comision Mexicana de Asistencia al Refugiado — COMAR) provided them with comprehensive support. The Mexican government was one of the key participants in the Contadora Group and thus played a very positive mediation role in the Isthmus during the decade.  Back.

Note 6: US direct intervention in the Dominican Republic, 1967, and Grenada, 1982; and more or less indirect interventions in Guatemala, 1954, Brazil, 1964, Chile, 1973, and Nicaragua and El Salvador, 1979-1989.  Back.

Note 7: Hugo Fru®hling, "Las Organizaciones no Gubernamentales. Nuevos Actores en la Proteccion a los Derechos Humanos en American del Sur," in Fru®hling, Derechos Humanos y Democracia, op. cit.  Back.

Note 8: Kathryn Sikkink, "The Emergence, Evolution and Effectiveness of the Latin American Human Rights Network," in Elizabeth Jelin and Eric Hershberg, eds., Constructing Democracy. Human Rights, Citizenship, and Society in Latin America (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1996) 59-97.  Back.

Note 9: Fru®hlig, Derechos Humanos y Democracia, op. cit, 14.  Back.

Note 10: Carlos Basombrio, ... Y Ahora que? Desafíos para el Trabajo por los Derechos Humanos en America Latina (Peru: Diakonía, 1996), 20-23.  Back.

Note 11: Ibid., 83-104  Back.

Note 12: United Nations Economic and Social Council, Commission on Human Rights, "Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Cuba Submitted by the Special Rapporteur, Mr. Carl Johan Groth, in Accordance with Commission Resolution 1996/69 and Economic Council Decision 1996/275," E/CN.4/1997/53, 22 January 1997.  Back.

Note 13: Whereas these structural economists recommended a reformist strategy of protected markets and import-substituting industrialization as a way of reversing the deterioration in the terms of exchange, their more radical successors, the dependency theorists, argued for the establishment of strong ties with the socialist bloc as the only way of shielding their economies from the pernicious influences of capitalistic development. Back.

Note 14: Other price cartels included copper, banana, sugar cane, and coffee producers.  Back.

Note 15: Most of the Latin American countries joined the Group of 77, but only a minority (Cuba, Panama, and Sandinista Nicaragua) became non-aligned active members. Latin American governments preferred to maintain an observer status.  Back.

Note 16: David P. Forsythe, "Human Rights and US Foreign Policy," in David Beetham, ed., Politics and Human Rights. Political Studies 43 (Special Issue, 1995), 116-120.  Back.

Note 17: Aryeh Neier, "The New Double Standard," Foreign Policy, no. 105 (Winter 1996-97), 91-101. Philip Alston, "Economic and Social Rights," in L. Henkin and J. L. Hargrove, eds., Human Rights: An Agenda for the Next Century (Washington, D.C.: American Society of International Law, Studies in Transnational Legal Policy, No. 26, 1994), 137-166, and Danilo Tu®rk, "Development and Human Rights," in ibid., 167-181.  Back.

Note 18: Other important American human rights legal instruments include the 1985 Cartagena de Indias Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture; the 1988 San Salvador Amendment to the Inter-American Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the 1990 Asuncion Amendment on the Abolition of the Death Penalty; the Convention on the Forced Disappearance of Persons: the Covenant on the Prevention and Sanction of Torture; and the Inter-American Covenant on the Prevention, Sanction and Eradication of Violence against Women, adopted in 1994 at Belem do Para.  Back.

Note 19: Ambassador Jose Ayala Lasso was replaced by Mary Robinson, Ireland's former president. Sonia Picado, a Costa Rican lawyer and diplomat, had made the shortlist to succeed the Ecuadorian diplomat.  Back.

Note 20: In 1938, preoccupied by the deteriorating situation in Europe, the governments of the Americas had adopted the Declaration on the Defence of Human Rights at the Eighth International American Conference, in Lima, Peru.  Back.

Note 21: Led by Romulo Gallegos, former president of Venezuela and one of Latin America's leading intellectuals of all times, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission began its activities on 3 October 1960. At the creation of the Court, its mandate was expanded and its legitimacy enhanced. The Commission's legal standing was further reinforced by the Buenos Aires amendment to the OAS Charter (approved in 1967 and effective in 1970), which adopted the human rights body as an integral part of the hemispheric organization.  Back.

Note 22: In Nicaragua, the OAS International Commission for Support and Verification of the Esquipulas II (CIAV-OAS) peace accords was set up with the basic mandate of monitoring former Sandinista foes' reinsertion into civilian life. Needless to say, the CIAV-OAS has had an important human rights observation component.  Back.

Note 23: Tom Farer, The Grand Strategy of the United States in Latin America (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1988), 77.  Back.

Note 24: Instituto Latinoamericano de Servicios Legales Alternativos (ILSA), "El Sistema Interamericano para la Proteccion de los Derechos Humanos: sus Logros y Limitaciones," unpublished manuscript, 1992, chap. 5.  Back.

Note 25: The Commission based its decision on Articles 1, 8, and 11 of the 1948 Declaration (rights to life, freedom, and personal security; the right to circulate freely; and the right to the preservation of health and welfare).  Back.

Note 26: Hector Fa˙ndez Ledesma, El Sistema Interamericano de Proteccion de los Derechos Humanos. Aspectos Institucionales y Procesales (San Jose, Costa Rica: Instituto Interamericano de Derechos Humanos, 1996), 603-605.  Back.

Note 27: Twenty-two governments have already ratified the 1994 Belem do Para Covenant on the Prevention, Sanction and Eradication of Violence against Women. Elizabeth A. H. Abi-Mershed and Denise L. Gilman, "La Comision Interamericana de Derechos Humanos y su Informe Especial en Derechos de la Mujer: Una Nueva Iniciativa para Examinar el Estatus de la Mujer en las Americas," in CLADEM—IIDH, Proteccion Internacional de los Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres. Primer Curso Taller (San Jose, Costa Rica: IIDH, 1997), 166.  Back.

Note 28: By 20 per cent or more every year since 1994 according to the Working Group on Democracy and Human Rights. Michael Schifter and Sean Neill, "Implementing the Summit of the Americas: Guaranteeing Democracy and Human Rights," North-South Center Working Paper, Miami, November 1996.  Back.

Note 29: Brazil's exhaustive Programa Nacional de Dereitos Humanos, Ministerio da Justic«a, at  Back.

Note 30: Maurice Lemoine, "Morts vivants et morts tout court," Le Monde Diplomatique (June 1997), 3.  Back.

Note 31: New York Times, 8 August 1997  Back.

Note 32: Jorge Serrano Elías resigned his presidency and left the country. He received diplomatic asylum from the Panamanian government and lives in Panama.  Back.

Note 33: Francisco Rojas Aravena, "El Grupo de Rio y la Seguridad Regional en America Latina," in Olga Pellicer, ed., La Seguridad Internacional en America Latina y el Caribe. El Debate Contemporaneo (Mexico D.F.: Instituto Matías Romero de Estudios Diplomaticos/Universidad de las Naciones Unidas, 1995), 173-202.  Back.

Note 34: Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay are Mercosur's founding members. Chile and Bolivia have received associate and observer status, respectively. Venezuela and Peru are seeking admission.  Back.

Note 35: Longley Kyle, The Sparrow and the Hawk. Costa Rica and the United States during the Rise of Jose Figueres (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997), 7  Back.

Note 36: Ibid., 34.  Back.

Note 37: Charles D. Ameringer, The Democratic Left in Exile: The Antidictatorial Struggle in the Caribbean, 1945-1959 (Coral Gables: University of Miami Press, 1974), 63-75.  Back.

Note 38: Venezuelans fighting Perez Jimenez and Cubans fiighting Batista would later join the Caribbean Legion.  Back.

Note 39: Kyle, The Sparrow and the Hawk, op. cit., 92.  Back.

Note 40: Since 1948, three presidents had previously served as foreign ministers: Mario Echandi, Daniel Oduber, and Calderon Guardia. Gonzalo Facio, twice Figueres' foreign minister, lost Liberacion's 1974 and 1978 primaries.  Back.

Note 41: A. Volio, "Lighting the Path to a Better World," United Nations Bulletin 13 (1 December 1952).  Back.

Note 42: President Arias was awarded the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in promoting peace in Central America and continues to be actively involved in pursuing demilitarization throughout the third world.  Back.

Note 43: Thomas E. Skidmore and Peter H. Smith, Modern Latin America (New York: Oxford University Press, 3rd edn., 1992), 86.  Back.

Note 44: The Costa Rican government sent a platoon of civil guards.  Back.

Note 45: Clarín, 10 March 1979.  Back.

Note 46: Three coups were attempted during Alfonsín's administration (April 1987, January 1988, and April 1988). They were unsuccessful because the Argentine people took to the streets, making clear their total support for the democratic regime. The last military insurgency was against Menem as late as December 1990.  Back.

Note 47: Amnesty International, Report 1997 (London: Amnesty International Publications, 1997), 74—75.  Back.