Don’t Turn a Blind Eye: Jimmy Carter’s Lesson for Latin American Democrats

 Carter -just like Almagro- held a quite different view. They both understood that international pressure is a fundamental weapon in the fight against tyranny. (Youtube)
Carter, like Almagro, aggressively fights against tyranny. (Youtube)

EspañolMany people beat their chests in defense of a democracy and human rights. But the truth is, few have actually ever raised their voices or taken concrete steps against those who threaten those ideals — from the right as well as from the left.

Two people who actually have are former President of the United States Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) and current Secretary General of OAS Luis Almagro.

In the ’70s, military dictatorships plagued the americas, especially in the southern part of South America where Chile (1973), Uruguay (1975) and Argentina (1976) all suffered from them.

In that time — just like today — most governments were playing dumb to this corruption, and looked the other way. Others, however, gave their support. The dictatorship led by Jorge Videla (1976-1981), for example, had the USSR and Fidel Castro-ed Cuba as its allies.

Some of the regional leaders that when elected called themselves defenders of democracy and Human Rights got rich by turning into dictators. Just look at Nestor and Cristina Kirchner in Argentina and Uruguay’s Tabaré Vázquez.

Venezuela shines like a star in the sky in this conversation. It had a genuine democracy generalize prosperity. It enjoyed a period of abundance and joy without worry. It was a refuge for the persecuted in the region, whom Venezuelans welcomed with generosity and open arms.

But the beginning of the end for dictatorships in Latin America was marked by the arrival of Carter to the United States presidency.

Daniel Gutman recalls:

“The US was, during Jimmy Carter’s rule, a harsh adversary to the Argentinian military dictatorship. During 1977 and 1978, Carter and his brave Secretary for Human Rights Patricia Derian pressed the Junta Militar to end state terrorism. No other government did anything like it, despite the community being aware of the magnitude of the crimes committed in the country. These with the excuse of fighting the guerrillas. These are all documented facts.”

Even though we changed the expression “fighting the guerrillas” to “fighting poverty,” and replaced Carter’s name with Almagro’s, what Gutman said about what happened 40 years ago can be applied to today’s situation.

Carter’s attitude was in stark contrast to his predecessor Gerald Ford, who did almost nothing to stop Human Rights violations. His logic was perfectly summed up by his State Secretary Henry Kissinger: “I have an old fashioned point of view, according to which friends must be backed.”

The same “ethics” are currently applied by several political figures. For example, José Mujica states that due to Almagro’s comments on Venezuela, he realizes he was wrong by promoting him for OAS’ leadership, and regrets it.  He states that “foreign pressure creates only paranoia” and doesn’t solve any inner conflicts.

But Carter — just like Almagro — held a different view. They both understood international pressure is a fundamental weapon in the fight against tyranny. In that context, the OAS has a fundamental role: to leave its bureaucratic workings and to actually do something.

In 1978, Carter made the Argentinian dictators know he would lift economic sanctions only if they did three things. Firstly, they had to reveal the location of disappeared citizens. Secondly, to judge or free detainees without any pending processes and to invite the Inter-american Commission of Human Rights into the country.

Gutman emphasizes that:

“The CIDH visit finally happened in 1979 and it’s hard to exaggerate its importance … kidnappings were reduced. Most of the secret centers for detention were closed and the cloak of silence over the tragedy of the missing people was lifted.”

In 2016, invoking article 20 of OAS Democratic Charter, Almagro called for an urgent session on the Permanent Council to debate, for the first time, the crisis in Venezuela.  Under his direction and after receiving complaints from persecuted Venezuelans, the OAS made an extensive exposition about the situation.  Almagro pointed that:

“In our report we have verified that the constitutional order of this country has been altered in multiple ways. The constitutional principal of separation of powers has been violated, the National Assembly has been blocked. Judicial power has been co-opted in its integration and workings. Human Rights are being systematically violated, both with the existence of 94 political prisoners, as with constant cases of torture.”

The meeting of the Permanent Council was planned for June 24. We don’t know the attitude the countries’ representatives will take. But we are sure that the eyes are on true democrats and human rights defenders. And that history will judge them.

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