Relations between United States and Latin America in the 80’s

Speech of Rafael Caldera in Florida International University, commencement ceremony, in which was conferred the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa. December 15, 1979.

Spanish version.


With deepest acknowledgement, I receive this high honor which Florida International University has so spontaneously and generously conferred on me, by granting its degree of Doctor Honoris Causa. I know that this gesture is inspired by the noble desire to strengthen the bonds of friendship and promote an exchange –at the highest levels of the spirit- between the great nation of the United States and the Latin American republics. Venezuela has been chosen on this occasion to bear testimony, through one of her sons, of the friendship and high esteem she deserves as the cradle of Liberators in the glorious days of the Independence War, and as an example of democratic institutions in these times, fraught with difficulties for the Hemisphere and the world.

And it is precisely this theme, that of the friendship that must be fomented between the North and the South of this Hemisphere, of Inter-American relations in the 1980’s about to begin, that I have been asked to develop in this commencement ceremony at which University degrees will be granted to hundreds of students, who are an example of youth ready to conquer a better life through work, directed and stimulated by intelligence.

I am profoundly convinced that the establishment of a true friendship –friendship among equals, constructive and harmonious friendship, based on new solid foundations- is an undeferrable necessity, not only for this hemisphere, but also for the world. On either side of the Río Grande this has been acknowledged by those in authority. Here in the United States, it will not be idle to recall the testimony of a political leader with the greatness of a true statesman, whose demise assumed proportions of a national loss: the former Senator and Vice-President, Hubert H. Humphrey. In what was, to my mind, a memorable article published in the magazine Foreign Affairs, in 1964, he said: “President Kennedy is revered for opening a new era in relations between the United States and Latin America, not primarily because he promised material assistance, but because he conveyed an understanding and respect for Latin American people, for their culture and many of their traditions. He did not regard Latin American people as inferior or expected them to see the solution of their problems in blind imitation of the United States. It is this attitude of understanding and respect that must permeate not only our leadership, but our entire society. This will not be easy to accomplish –as most adults in this country were educated in schools where the overwhelming majority of textbooks and reference books either ignore Latin America or reflected a condescending attitude towards Latin Americans”.

His reference to President Kennedy was undoubtedly fortunate, because both, he and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, with his “good neighbor” policy, succeeded in expressing, on one hand, the priority of inter-American relations, and, at the same time, in interpreting the feelings of the Latin American people, who, as I observed before a Joint Session of the Congress of the United States, know how to place their dignity above their necessity.

Friendship among equals, I have said: equals juridically and morally, equals in dignity and decorum, equals insofar as equality excludes all ties of subordination. But, according to the norms of social justice, which, from the plane of relations between individuals or social groups must also pass to that or international relations, we must be aware that there exists inequality of wealth, inequality in power, inequality in the degree of development. This demands that, in negotiations and agreements, it be recognized that he who is more powerful, more developed, or more affluent, is not for those reasons entitled to a role of preeminence, but rather has greater obligations, so that each may achieve the goal of securing a decent human life for this people, and that the objectives of the international community may be attained harmoniously among all its members.

It would be useless and foolish to claim that the relations between the United States and Latin America have always been fair; at the present moment it would seem to be easier to show suspicion, reserve, and resentment, both in the minds of the Latin peoples, who feel that they are the victims of prepotency and exploitation, as in the minds of the American people, who complain of being misunderstood, of having to bear the blame for everything that happens, even when it is the fault of those adversely affected, of not being appreciated in their efforts to help to solve the problems of others. North-Americans have a great virtue: that of listening to what is said of them and of going so far as to ask to be told frankly what is held to be objectionable about their behavior. But is difficult for them to accept as true all the charges that are laid daily at their door. In this, reason is sometimes on their side. But this willingness to listen, and the tendency of the Latin American to give full vent to his feelings, opens up the way to dialogue, ensuring the most important requisite for dialogue to lead to a favorable result, namely: sincerity.

We are on the threshold of a new decade. 1980 is here; we are approaching the half millennium since the discovery of America, and the beginning of the third millennium of Christianity. The year 2000 has become a point of reference for the realization of fundamental aspirations of mankind. The decade about to begin corresponds to the third United Nations decade for development. The dialogue between the United States and Latin America is perhaps that, in which two regions of the world, representative of development and under development, find themselves closest geographically and are most interpenetrated economically and culturally. The dialogue between both regions is in the most characteristic sector of the North-South dialogue. Positive results from this dialogue will open up firm, clear hopes to the world; its failure will frustrate the yearning to accomplish a harmonious rectification of the international political and economic order.

Latin America, in general, hopes as of 1980, as the late Vice-President Hubert Humphrey recommended in 1964 and on many other occasions, due priority will be given to the area by the leaders and people of the United States. On numerous occasions it has been said that Latin America has been a sort of backyard of the United States. It is necessary to keep the front of the house and the main passages and rooms in the best order, but sometimes that order does not extend to the backyard. It has also been said that Latin America has been considered by the United States as a faithful wife whose loyalty can be taken for granted, while it showers attention on fickle mistresses whose benevolence it seeks to win over. There may be some exaggeration in these sayings but they reflect a great deal of truth. The priority that Humphrey demanded, invoking the statesmanlike perspicacity of the late President Kennedy will constitute psychologically an opening to deal with pending affairs and solve them with good will.

The whole world is convulsed. What is happening in Iran overwhelms all thinking people everywhere with anguish. One feels the need to regain ground already secured by mankind, such as that of diplomatic prerogatives that ensure the possibility of discussion among nations, even in the midst of conflicting interests, and despite differences, however deep. The United States, as a world power, is permanently affected by what happens in even the remotest regions, and the situations created in front of its embassies serve as thermometers of the local temperature. But, this universal character of American politics cannot, must not, make her blind to the urgency of setting up channels to analyse and solve hemisphere problems as satisfactorily as possible. It’s mandatory to transmit to all inhabitants of North and South of this America discovered by Columbus almost five centuries ago, the assurance that each one’s rights are fully respected, that each exercises complete sovereignty over its internal affairs, though, at the same time, all must cooperate, in the measure of their capacity, to guarantee their populations the possibility of a decent, healthy, human life, without obstacles to their constant betterment.

As in other parts of the world, on our Continent we observe symptoms that demand immediate attention. At certain moments the fever mounts in the mercury column to demonstrate that there are internal troubles. The waters of the Caribbean, always turbulent, are stirring up increasingly. The countries of the Southern Cone keep drifting away from civilized political systems that once qualified them to head our family of nations. Brazil, immense and complex, in the midst of the steps it is taking to place itself again on the road to democratic institutions, is showing how intricate the return is when one has transgressed the limits of public power in a State of Law.

However, one must not deny that steps have been, and are being, taken that reveal the intention of promoting lasting understanding. Whatever the judgment, inspired by patriotic sentiment that may be pronounced by either of the peoples of the negotiating countries, the Panama treaties were an undeniable step in the right direction, so as also the desire to ensure greater respect for human rights in all American countries. Those of us who are convinced that a dialogue, mutually respectful and sincerely interested in attaining the goals that guarantee friendship, is not only possible but necessary, must help to forge a reciprocal disposition to understanding, not only among leaders, but also among the people, since we must never forget that in the democratic system it is the people that must have the final say.

Latin America has the urgent need to carry out in a short period of time development programs that offer their urban and rural populations the chance to live as human beings and satisfy their most important material and spiritual needs through work. The false and unjust idea that our problems are the consequence of our indolence or lack of capacity, must be laid aside to determine precisely the obstacles that not only impede, but also threaten to render impossible, our satisfaction and our progress. The supposed inferiority of Latin Americans has been refuted time and time again. I shall not recall here the high degree of cultural development achieved by our countries during the colonial period, nor the brilliant constellation of men and women who enhanced the mettle of our people in the glorious days of Independence. Here in the State of Florida, there exists a more immediate example: the daily testimony of the ability, intelligence and entrepreneurship spirit that numerous Latin Americans, among them thousands of Cubans forced into a diaspora by the political situation in their country, have demonstrated in competing and winning in the hard struggle for life.

The matter was that, while the former British colonies, originally limited to a relatively discrete territory on the Atlantic coast and inspired by the British economy that was fully launched upon its Industrial Revolution, while they maintained their political unity and, through it, secured their economic development, the former Spanish colonies, over a very extensive area and at a time when the mother country was in open decadence, were paying a very heavy price for securing the autonomy of separate states and did not give due importance to the economic imperatives that this new stage in the development of mankind dictated. As has been said so many times, while the United States were being consolidated in the North, the Disunited States were fragmenting in the South.

At present, industry has reached such a degree of technological sophistication and automation that it requires very large amounts of capital to offer stable employment (well-remunerated, of course) to an increasingly smaller number of persons, which makes it absolutely prohibitive for developing countries to go through the same stages that led the most advanced nations to their present degree of industrialization.

We Latin Americans cannot, must not, and do not wish to achieve industrialization by sacrificing the norms of justice recognized everywhere nowadays. It is well-known that the Industrial Revolution imposed incredibly long working days, disregarded the laws of rest and protection that were only guaranteed later by Social Security. It reprehensibly employed woman and child labor, and secured for its own benefit raw materials and labor at worthless prices from countries subjected to a colonial regime. None of that is possible, or desirable, or acceptable in our present day.

The process of development in our countries is more difficult because we must respect conditions that in other times were scorned. Neither are we sure that our objective must be the repetition or the carbon copy of the economy of the more advanced countries of our time: we are moved to find a model of society in which the quality of life is high, where possibilities are equitably distributed among all, and in which we can offer an adequate level of happiness and well-being.

Evidently, to do that, we need capital, provided in sufficient quantities and under reasonable conditions. The United States can provide it since it has more capital available than any other nation on earth. In 1970, I dared to remind Senators and Representatives of this great country that a nation capable of reaching the moon cannot be incapable of making the necessary effort to facilitate the possibility of a decent human life to friendly countries. The amounts required are much less than what was required for the space program and are but a fraction of what a tense world situation forces her to spend in acquiring material for war. And that investment is not sought free of charge: not only will it be rewarded by peace, progress and international cooperation, but, from a strictly financial point of view, it can be compensated by a fair rate of interest and a reasonable degree of amortization.

Our countries have an abundant supply of labor, so much that it overwhelms police and legal barriers and moves towards the great economic centers; they need capital and technical know-how. The supply of the former must be under satisfactory conditions, and the transfer of technology carried out in such a way that its benefits may be secured in those places where the economic activity is to be performed. These are the objectives of the dialogue that we so fervently desire between the United States and Latin America, and, in general terms, these are the goals of the North-South dialogue which is being held with little success, in long deliberations in a search for a new world order.

I know that speaking of a new economic order that will change many of the existing conditions will meet resistance among those most favored in the present situation. But the fact is that some immediate sacrifices will result in great benefits for all in the long run. When in past centuries men began to talk of social justice, there was great resistance to this new concept. It seemed absurd to think that the terms of mathematical equality would be abandoned between parties negotiating a contract, and that simply for having had better luck and for having earned greater profits in a merciless economic competition, the rich would have to assume greater burdens and pay the less favored indemnities and benefits based, not on the fault of the entrepreneurs, but on the demands of social reality. The demands of the labor unions, although limited at first to just asking for the reduction of the work day to eight hours, which became the great universal banner of workers’ struggles, even seemed to be a violation of the juridical rules established over the years.

Today, businessmen recognize and proclaim the right of the workers to progress continuously, and they accept it (even within excessive inconveniences at times, in the face of which they sometimes rightly complain), so that production may become a process whose favorable results will reach as many as possible, not only its own participants, but the whole community. The same must happen in international relations.

Social Justice, already in practice within the circles of domestic law, must be admitted and received as a fundamental element in the relations among countries. If in fields such as Labor Law, Social Justice imposes a series of obligations on the party most favored economically, International Social Justice must impose conditions and greater obligations on the better-endowed countries, in order to enable the development of the least-favored countries and to achieve the goals of the international community at adequate levels. The raw materials produced by developing countries must find sufficiently stable markets to protect them against cyclical alternatives that can produce catastrophic effects, and the manufactured goods of developing countries must find ready access to big markets, This proposition, which has been made at the different sessions of the North-South dialogue, must be an objective in the dialogue, must be an objective in the dialogue between North and South America, of such great interest to us in the 1980s.

In its inter-American policy, the United States has been accused of pitting off southern countries against each other to maintain its supremacy. Though this is not always completely true, one cannot deny that this claim is based on facts. When it has acted in this way, the best interests of the United States have not been served. The existence of a wholesome integrated Latin-America, harmoniously guided, in an atmosphere of mutual understanding and respect, is of great benefit to the United States. Multilateralism, a favorable disposition towards our integration is all to the benefit of the United States because it is thereby offered a valid interlocutor with whom to negotiate and make agreements favorable to both sides and to the whole world, instead of keeping up an endless and complicated series of fruitless conversations with numerous, contradictory States.

On the other hand, the United States has shown an unquestionable aptitude for maintaining relations with regimes of the most varied types. No doubt, the common objective must be to foster as far as possible the establishment and strengthening of democratic institutions throughout the hemisphere; the political currents which contribute to this within a pluralistic conception, must be respected by the United States as worthy interlocutors, with due regard to the sovereign preferences of the people. The experience of Venezuela, in so far as it can serve to clarify the possibilities of sister countries, has demonstrated that ideological and political pluralism is a convenient system for the exercise of liberties, the analysis of problems, and the direction of governments in the domestic and international sphere.

All the rich experience to which I have referred enhances the possibility of a fruitful dialogue to establish optimum relations between the United States and Latin America in the 1980’s. I have been, and continue to be, optimistic, though this does not stop me from seeing the obstacles to be overcome. I am sure that my position is not unique, but is simply the repetition of that held by very many in both the Norh and South of this hemisphere.

The State of Florida, for geographic and historical reasons, is increasingly becoming the focal point where Latins and Anglo-saxons meet and cooperate in the search for common welfare. I know that, since we are dealing with human beings, this exchange sometimes leads con conflicts and differences of opinion that occasionally harden, and that it would be impossible for it to be otherwise; but the important thing is that all these differences that tend to generate conflict can be, and are, overcome. And this experiment in living together, integrating these two great human groups into a common will, can, and must, help to obtain the desired success in the relations between the two peoples of the North and South.

This University sees it in this way. Its name and existence are proof of this fact. It is also demonstrated by the generosity with which it has invited and received me, as a citizen of Latin America, on this happy occasion of the graduation of young people, conscious of the demands placed upon them in their hour of action. These graduating classes have a special responsibility and I have the conviction that they will fulfil it. I am also sure that this institution will continue spreading its message, disseminating and intensifying its work, and contributing at the highest levels of thought and technology to the attainment of this goal which inspires and spurs us on to forge a new friendship. A genuine friendship, a fruitful friendship between the peoples of the two Americas, so that, in an atmosphere of harmony and solidarity, they may make an even greater contribution to the service of humanity in the struggle for freedom and justice.