Human Rights in an Age of Cold War Violence: the Central American example.
Wilsman, Adam Richard
Upon his inauguration in 1977, American President Jimmy Carter promised to make human rights the “soul” of his foreign policy, thus subordinating what he considered America’s “inordinate” fear of communism in the broader Cold War. Central America quickly became the testing grounds for these campaign promises as the region erupted into crisis, with serious revolutionary threats first emerging in Nicaragua and later growing more serious in nearby Guatemala. Given these threats, each of these governments turned up the pressure on their respective leftist opposition movements and frequently violated internationally recognized human rights. What happened to Carter’s human rights program in a region in which traditional American Cold War security concerns seemed to conflict with Carter’s stated desire to promote human rights? To what degree did the Reagan administration continue Carter’s promotion of human rights in the region as the crisis seemingly grew more violent and out of control? These are some of the central questions that this paper seeks to answer. Ultimately, while Carter demonstrates a continued commitment to his human rights policy in the face of a great deal of pressure, both domestic and foreign, the Reagan administration distances itself from much of Carter’s rhetoric, while applying human rights in an uneven way to the Central American region.