Resisting Reagan: The U.S. Central America Peace Movement

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In some cases, activists were able to get their concerns written into the legislation, through conditions placed on assistance and the Leahy Law. When Plan Colombia was passed by Congress in , the legislation included human rights conditions focused mainly on severing the links between the security forces and paramilitary groups. Activists involved in creating the conditions had drawn on previous examples implemented in the cases assistance to Serbia and Peru.

In the first year, the Clinton administration waived the conditions on the national security grounds; subsequently the Bush administration simply certified over the objections of human rights groups. Despite the failure of the conditions to impact aid delivery, activists argued that the conditions served several important functions. First and foremost, the conditions kept human rights issues in the debate, and forced a yearly discussion of the human rights situation in Colombia. The certification process also provided an important incentive for Colombian government action on specific cases in order to provide justification for the annual certification.

Unlike general human rights legislation, the conditions were written specifically in response to the situation in Colombia, and were modified as the legislation went through the yearly appropriation process. NGO activists complained, however, that the Colombian government would present statistics claiming to represent progress in terms of human rights but without the real substantive changes in policy. But in the words of one activist, "until September 10, we had something going. We were players, the human rights community was in the game, we mattered. We didn't get everything we wanted, we didn't even get half of what we wanted, but we were relevant in a way that we hadn't been seven or ten years before.

What became the Leahy Law began as the Leahy Amendment, frst passed in The genesis of the bill was activist concern over military assistance to abusive units in Colombia. A Amnesty International report included cases of human rights abuses in Colombia involving 13 specific military units. AI staff sent copies of the report and a letter requesting information about the assistance and U. However, the U. Meanwhile, a Senate staffer concerned about the issue began an email exchange with the AI Washington director, who modified her proposal and sent them to Tim Reiser, Senator Patrick Leahy D-VT staff on the foreign relations committee with a profound commitment to human rights issues.

The Leahy Law began as requiring the U. The law was designed to be narrower than Section B in that aid was only suspended to particular units rather than cut off to an entire country, and although it did not include a waiver option the aid could be continued if the recipient government demonstrated that they were engaged in corrective measures such as investigations of the allegations.

The measure was expanded to cover the entire foreign appropriations bill and eventually the Defense Department; the amendment was also made into permanent law. The major debates over implementation have focused on the interpretation of specific wording, most importantly what constitutes a "unit. For individuals attending training, the debate was over whether or not his group had to be vetted.

Eventually, the interpretation was ruled to be that the "unit to be trained is the unit to be vetted;" thus even individual soldiers from abusive units may participate in training unless abuse can be traced to their name. Both AI staff and the Congressional aids that worked on the legislation feel this interpretation violates the intention of the bill.

The law was extremely controversial within the Colombian military establishment; General Bonnett, then head of the armed forces, refused to sign the required memorandum of agreement with the U. State Department stating that he would comply with the conditions for almost a year. Some U. In one of the most notorious examples, declassified embassy cables revealed that Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert told Colombian military officials, saying he would work to "remove conditions on assistance" and complained about the previous years of "leftist" influence in the U. Congress that "used human rights as an excuse to aid the left in other countries.

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The Leahy Law has had a substantial impact on U. Senior State Department and Defense Department officials who participated in the design and implementation of the first years of Plan Colombia agreed that the military strategy promoted by the United States was determined in part by the Leahy amendment requirements. Throughout the s, the majority of U. As one senior policymaker told me, "They made the decision that no unit that existed could meet the standard, so they started from scratch.

There were three new units created, and then they watched them like hawks. According to Leahy supporters, the provision sent a very important message that human rights issues are important to the U. The law encouraged conscientious officials, along with investigative journalists and activists, to pursue cases; it also required tracking military assistance and vetting its recipients. Activists and Congressional staff concerned about Leahy implementation used the Senate confirmation of ambassadors and public hearings to ensure compliance, as well as to emphasize the importance of the human rights message.

According to one former Congressional aid, "my experience was that with career ambassadors before the Senate, [if] you make any fuss or hint that their confirmation could be in jeopardy[,] you can get them to really pay attention. Working on the senate foreign relations committee, the committee had an unbelievable leverage point. However, even Leahy supporters acknowledge that the measure has severe limitations. First, it places the burden on the victims of human rights violations to identify their attackers, arguably creating an incentive for the establishment of irregular forces, disguising the identity of military forces during operations and the formation of paramilitary groups.

Second, there is a clear loophole, employed by the U. Rather than restricting aid until the entire military force was sufficiently reformed to pass Leahy requirements, the U. It's also important to note that the Leahy Law requires not a complete end to abuses, but the absence of allegations or the lack of corrective measures including investigations. Assessing the role of Leahy in encouraging the investigation, prosecution and incarceration for those responsible is also extremely difficult; given current figures provided by human rights activists and journalists in Colombia, it is difficult to see progress on this front.


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According to one of the law's first promoters, "I am not aware of any place where the Leahy Amendment ended up being an antiimpunity law. Activists within the United States remain divided over the appropriate strategies to best promote social change and human rights in the U. Activists within grassroots organizations critique elite advocacy requiring compromises and 'insider' strategies employed by NGOs in Washington, believing their mandates to be more confrontational and protest orientated, with little interest in negotiating their demands for dramatic changes in U.

Others take issue with the high turn over and relatively short institutional memories of NGOs, characterized by low pay and long work hours, with many activists focused on political analysis rather than direct grassroots organizing.


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Such divisions have long been common within activist coalitions, as scholars of social movements have observed in other cases. Academics and practioners seeking to understand the possibilities and limitations of human rights activism need to look beyond the "mobilization of shame" to the study of social movements in order to better understand why some human rights crises generate grassroots responses abroad and others do not.

As I have presented here, the political context for such movements play a significant role in the international response, above and beyond the seriousness of the political violence in question. Thus, I argue that international human rights activism must be understood as the product of local political cultures, along with the cultural and material resources available to producing such activism. Despite these limitations, and the criticisms offered by both activists and scholars, the increasing professionalization of human rights activism has generated some significant policy responses, even in cases of limited grassroots mobilization.

Professional human rights defenders, working with allies within the U. Congress, made the Leahy Amendment prohibiting assistance to abusive military units into permanent law. They also incorporated human rights conditions into legislation. However, assessing the impact of such efforts is difficult. The State Department first waived, and then certified their adherence to, the human rights requirements in the legislation despite the objections of human rights researchers.

The Leahy law changed U. Activists argue that such measures keep human rights concerns in the policy debates, and create mechanisms for pressure on the Colombian government for investigations on specific cases. There still is a significant debate within the human rights community, however, over how to best promote human rights and governmental policy reforms. A more complete understanding of the longer term impact of such measures will requires time, while observers measure the governmental human rights responses over the coming decades.

Committee for Refugees, U. List found at the U. In practice, there were a range of competing visions over the appropriate response of U. The three had traveled to Arauca in support of the U'Wa people's attempts to limit oil exploration in their territory. The three were kidnapped by the FARC and later killed. The military regimes that replaced them engaged in the most serious abuses of the past century, including the disappearance and murder of hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans.

The military regimes that took power in Brazil , Uruguay , Chile , and Argentina employed significant political violence against their real and perceived opponents, while enjoying U. Originally called the Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, the division was created in October by Congressional mandate and reflected Carter's emphasis on human rights.

The office was staffed with career Foreign Service Officers, while the first leaders were political appointees who had been active in the civil rights movement. The agency faced numerous obstacles including considerable resistance from other bureaus within the State Department. With only 20 staff members in , President Ronald Reagan weakened the bureau. Each March, by Congressional mandate, the DRL must produce hundreds of pages addressing a growing range of human rights issues in almost every country in the world; the report was 5, pages long and covered countries.

Embassy human rights officers draft the reports, which then are revised by DHL staff in Washington. These reports were often accused of political bias, particularly during the Reagan administration; by the end of his term, U. Bertram, Eva et al. Drug war politics: The price of denial. Berkeley: University of California Press. Rights on the rise: International mobilization for new human rights. The international struggle for new human rights. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

An analytic assessment of U. Washington: American Enterprise Institute. Setting the advocacy agenda: Theorizing issue emergence and nonemergence in transnational advocacy networks. Solidarity and divisions: Challenges to solidarity in the global coal industry. Paper presented at the Empire and Solidarity in the Americas conference. The emergence of human rights politics in the United States. Dark paradise: A history of opiate addiction in America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Driven by drugs: United States policy towards Colombia.

Boulder: Lynne Riener. God and Caesar at the Rio Grande: Sanctuary and the politics of religion. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Transnational politics at the edges of sovereignty: Social movements, crossings and the state at the U. Colombia goes full tilt to return to grace. The Wall Street Journal , June 4. Ideas, bureaucratic politics, and the crafting of foreign policy. The mobilization of shame: A world view of human rights.

New Haven: Yale University Press. War in Colombia: Guerrillas, drugs and human rights in U. Washington: National Security Archive. Please try again later. Christian Smith wrote in the Introduction to this book, "One of the most interesting and significant of these foreign policy-oriented grassroots movements in the U.

In this movement, more than one hundred thousand U. Ordinary citizens marched in the streets, illegally housed refugees fleeing persecution Amazingly, however, the U.

Central America peace movement of the s has received scant attention in both the popular and academic literature Indeed, many scholars appear unaware that it ever existed I attempt in this book to weave together narrative, analysis, and theory I seek to draw from this story general observations about the nature of human social life and action.

Central America peace movement was not a unified, monolithic entity. Few social movements are. It was, instead, a broad assembly of individual and collective actions and organizations, all of which challenged U. Central American policy in some way. This was gradually picked up more and more by peace movement activists. It was among church people exactly that insurgent consciousness was first ignited. In some cases, the trespassers left threatening messages behind.

At the same time, however, it would also be misleading to overlook these significant internal problems and dysfunctions that threatened to undermine the strength and effectiveness of the movement. Christian Smith's analysis of the Central America peace movement is an excellent and extensive social movement case study. Smith employs social movement theory to understand the emergence and trajectory of the movement, and despite the academic orientation of the book, Smith's jargon-free writing is accessible to a general audience.

I found Smith's analyses on the whole to be persuasive. The book's only shortcoming is that Smith's writing is not very concise, and some parts drag especially in part 2 on the emergence of the movement. The natural ally faction wished to provide military and economic assistance to the beleaguered government with large, multi-year commitments, so that the war could be won as quickly as possible.

The ultimate goal of this faction was a democratic El Salvador. The transition to democracy was much more difficult with the war going on. For the leveraged ally faction, however, a democratic El Salvador, one that did not face a large-scale communist threat, would need less American assistance, thus giving the U.

Consequently, this faction insisted on small, incremental doses of aid, accompanied by onerous reporting requirements. The two factions also came to blows over the plans for land reform in El Salvador. While both agreed that skewed land-holding patterns were holding the country back, they had different solutions in mind. Both sides agreed that the largest estates should be broken up and that small-scale sharecroppers should own their own land instead of renting.

Resisting Reagan: The U.S. Central America Peace Movement

But the leveraged ally faction embraced a plan put forward during the Carter administration that would have seized medium-sized farms devoted to cash crops and turned them into small plots for subsistence farming. Moreover, the leveraged ally faction insisted that the supposed beneficiaries of land reform not receive actual ownership of farmland. For the leveraged ally faction, however, such devastation would make El Salvador desperate for American aid even long after the guerrillas were defeated. The battle was won by the natural ally faction, and the most controversial part of the land reform plan was never implemented.

The difference between the two factions also appeared in stark relief during the Grenada crisis. The situation on the small island had been deteriorating since leftist Maurice Bishop seized power in The matter was important to the United States for two reasons. American soldiers found enough weapons in Grenada to support major military operations, as well as documents that showed the Grenadians asking the Soviets for landing craft and airplanes for paratroopers.

The possibility that the students could be taken hostage alarmed policymakers from both factions. However, the two sides proposed different solutions to the crisis. The natural ally faction, centered in the National Security Council, desired to use military force not only to evacuate the medical students, but also to crush the communist government and allow Grenada to become democratic. The State Department, headquarters for the leveraged ally faction, wanted to mount a rescue operation designed solely to evacuate the American students, leaving the pro-Soviet government in place. In the event, Operation Urgent Fury was launched according to the desires of the natural ally faction.

Moreover, it would have become a threat to its island neighbors, and even a cause for worry for Venezuela and Brazil. Most, if not all, of those nations would have had to come to the U. Nowhere was the battle between the two factions within the Reagan administration more pronounced and prolonged than over the issue of aid to the contras in Nicaragua.

This difference of opinion over tactics reflected a complete divergence of views over the ultimate purpose of the contras. To that end, this faction sought to support home-grown contra leaders, officers who had the loyalty of their soldiers and the skills to win the war.

It was this faction that insisted that the aid be covert, a decision that often prevented Reagan, and people like me in the Office of Public Liaison, from effectively defending the contras in the heated debates of the era. This division is a large part of the reason that administration statements on the contras were often contradictory and confusing. Working as I did in the Office of Public Liaison, I was often reminded, by both the media and concerned citizens, that what I was saying about Nicaragua did not match what others in the same administration were saying.

Unlike the example of Grenada, the clash between the factions over Nicaragua was never really resolved. The leveraged ally faction, however, won the next round, when Reagan was persuaded to make common cause with then-House Democratic Leader Jim Wright and embrace a peace plan that allowed the Sandinistas to remain in power. Even when the Sandinistas were voted out of power, overwhelmingly, in , the leveraged ally faction in the administration of George H.

The victorious anti-communists were advised by former President Jimmy Carter to continue to treat the Sandinistas as the legitimate rulers of the country. His son, by contrast, fought Operation Iraqi Freedom in a way designed to create natural allies. Indeed, President George W. The persistence of the natural ally faction can be seen in the disastrous actions of the State Department and the U. The one goal that both the leveraged ally and natural ally factions have in common is a desire for greater U. Given this basic orientation, it was predictable that the struggle between these factions would largely go into abeyance during the administration of Barack Obama.

Since Obama frequently seemed ambivalent as to whether U. Time will tell whether the Trump administration will see a continuation of the divisions of the Obama years or a return to the more familiar realist-idealist divide. Since the United States became a global power after World War II, scholars have tried to discern and illuminate patterns in the crafting of U. When such patterns seem to disappear in a welter of policies that appear confused, counterproductive, and contradictory, scholars have been quick to conclude that policymakers are willfully short-sighted, ideologically rigid to the point of blindness, or arrogant to the point of outright stupidity.

While such explanations can still serve as a last resort, I submit that looking for infighting between the factions I describe above will reveal much more deliberate patterns of decision-making. Edward A. Lynch is professor and chair of political science at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia. At Hollins, Lynch teaches classes on U. Foreign Policy, U. He is also a frequent commentator on politics, having done hundreds of television and radio interviews. The United Nations estimates that between one fifth and one third of the income of transnational organized crime groups comes from the production and trafficking of drugs.

Though a prohibitionist ethos had already permeated the U.

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As racial tensions erupted into riots in the inner cities, and massive anti-Vietnam war protests opposed U. Just as the Nixon administration sought to deflect responsibility for atrocities committed by U. It was Reagan who revived the war on drugs, which for all intents and purposes, had become moribund under the administration of President Jimmy Carter. Supply-side policies essentially placed the responsibility for domestic drug use on the countries supplying the drugs, many of which complained that the United States was blaming them for its social ills.

The punitive approach to drugs was not just a domestic phenomenon. In Latin America, this involved the extensive use of herbicides, usually applied aerially, to destroy opium, marijuana, and coca crops. These two countries also suffered from the depredations of radical left-wing guerrilla movements that exerted increasing control over drug production and trafficking.

The supply-side strategy therefore aimed to strengthen the Peruvian and Colombian armed forces in their struggle against the guerrillas. Not only did the supply-side approach empower the armed forces and security services of these countries, contributing to escalating human rights abuses, it was demonstrably ineffective. As long as the demand for drugs exists, people will find a way to supply them. Ironically enough, given his devotion to free market principles, Reagan seems to have never acknowledged this fact.

The Reagan administration accused Cuba and Nicaragua, the two avowedly Marxist-Leninist regimes in Latin America, of smuggling drugs into the United States to destabilize American society and then using the profits to finance Marxist revolution in the Western Hemisphere. Circumstantial evidence of the involvement of corrupt Cuban and Nicaraguan officials in the drug trade did emerge, but there was no evidence to suggest that it was systematic or pursued as a matter of policy.

However, the Reagan administration dismissed these charges out of hand. They took the entire Colombian Supreme Court hostage and destroyed documents, including U. Less than six months later, National Security Decision Directive declared drugs a national security threat, widening the scope of military involvement in the drug war and linking counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics in official U. From the outset, however, this relationship was poorly defined.

By using the term in an indiscriminate fashion, U. This conflation of the threats posed by drug trafficking and leftist insurgency allowed the Reagan administration to provide counterinsurgency support to Latin American governments even in the restricted atmosphere of the post-Vietnam era, when Congress and the American public were wary of being sucked into another Third World quagmire. The specter of violent street crime perpetrated by junkies, however, haunted the breakfast table with every newspaper headline, and the dinner table with every evening news broadcast.

Although levels of violent crime and drug use remained relatively steady throughout the decade i. The supply-side narcotics control efforts spearheaded by the Reagan administration continue to define the U. The prohibitionist ethos has contributed to the further destabilization of Latin American societies, siphoning resources away from the types of reforms that are needed to enhance democracy and prosperity in the region. Central America, as the main vector of cocaine that is smuggled from the Andes to North America, is among the most violent areas in the world today, with some of the highest homicide rates.

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Krenn on Smith, 'Resisting Reagan: The U.S Central America Peace Movement'

These escalating crime levels negatively impact economic growth and democratic development, while eroding respect for the rule of law. Ultimately, the supply-side strategy pioneered by the Reagan administration has exacerbated regional instability while utterly failing in its goal of eliminating — or even reducing — the production, trafficking, and consumption of narcotics. Naval War College. Cited in Carothers, In the Name of Democracy, Based on collected testimonies acquired between July and March , the Truth Commission for El Salvador attributed 85 percent of the acts of violence to State agents.

Approximately five percent of the acts of violence were attributed to the FMLN. Clinton Rossiter New York: Signet, , — And Thomas C.

2. Revisiting the Reagan Doctrine in Latin America

Field Jr. The perceived threat of Castro-communism led the United States to launch a development program in Latin America that rested on social reforms and political democratization. Development goals took a back seat to security concerns and above all anticommunism. Ultimately, the inherent contradictions of the Alliance for Progress worked to polarize politics in the region, closing off the possibility of centrist democratic alternatives.

This meeting was also widely covered by the international press. Arnson, ed.


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Skinner, Annelise Anderson, and Martin Anderson eds. Lawrence, and Julio Moreno, eds. Bruce M. Bagley and Jonathan D. Rosen Gainesville: University Press of Florida, , — Philip Zelikow. American policymaking has declined over the past several decades, but it is something that can be regained. It is not ephemeral or lost to the mists of time. The skills needed to tackle public problem-solving are specific and cultural — and they are….

Todd Hall. How has this come about? Francis J. In his introductory essay for Vol. December 18, Thus, Scott writes, the Reagan Doctrine in Latin America was a policy about the Soviet Union in the region, not a policy for the region itself. The Return of Ideology? Scott Nearly four decades ago, Ronald Reagan assumed the office of the presidency amid concerns about political developments in Latin America, including fears of leftist revolutions, anti-American regimes, and growing influence by the Soviet Union.

Remembering the Reagan Doctrine 21 Reagan took office in determined to challenge Soviet expansionism in the developing world. Origins and Development From the start, the Reagan Doctrine in general, and its application to Nicaragua in particular, reflected a distinct ideological perspective, widely shared by the president and members of the Reagan administration, that motivated the initiative and the interpretation of the events in Latin America that prompted it. Getting Involved The Salvadoran Civil War that ravaged the smallest nation in Central America from to was, at its roots, a national conflict.

Obstructing Peace In addition to jeopardizing civilian control of the military, the Reagan administration was dogged in its opposition to any peace process in El Salvador that did not entail the military capitulation of the FMLN. A Case of Amnesia In October , a caravan of approximately 7, refugees from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, who were fleeing violence and poverty, began an unimaginably arduous journey on foot from Honduras to the United States.

Fisk Elections in Latin America are once again making the news. Latin America and the Caribbean at the Start of the s As the s opened, Latin America was a region known for its rule by caudillo , or strongman rule. The Reagan Administration Legacy Since the s, the Latin American region has demonstrated a continuous commitment to the electoral model. Lynch During the last weeks of his administration, President Ronald Reagan was often asked about any regrets from his time in office.

Factions in Nicaragua Nowhere was the battle between the two factions within the Reagan administration more pronounced and prolonged than over the issue of aid to the contras in Nicaragua. Conclusion Since the United States became a global power after World War II, scholars have tried to discern and illuminate patterns in the crafting of U. The War on Drugs Though a prohibitionist ethos had already permeated the U. The Politics of Narcoterrorism The punitive approach to drugs was not just a domestic phenomenon.

Conclusion The supply-side narcotics control efforts spearheaded by the Reagan administration continue to define the U. Policymaking September Foreign Policy September Patterns and Purpose Patterns and Purpose. Policy and Academia August Remembering the Reagan Doctrine [21] Reagan took office in determined to challenge Soviet expansionism in the developing world.

In the weeks prior to the end of its term, the Carter administration responded to the coalition's renewed military actions by restoring lethal and non-lethal military aid to El Salvador. A grandmother, who had been told by the guerrillas she would be killed when she returned from the polls, and she told the guerrillas, "You can kill me, you can kill my family, kill my neighbors, but you can't kill us all.

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