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View Diary: Human Rights Advice from a Past President to a President-Elect (207 comments)

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  •  US aid to El Salvador was in place before Carter (7+ / 0-)

    was elected. At some point, he limited it to "non-lethal" aid because of human rights violations by the government. No guns, armaments, etc.

    A friend of mine worked at a Catholic refugee camp in Honduras at that time. At one point they got word that Salvadorian refugees were crossing the river into Honduras. They took medical supplies and went to meet them, knowing there might be injured people. When they got to the river, they saw a Salvadorian army helicopter strafing the people – mostly women, children, and old men – as they struggled to cross the river.

    It was an insane thing the Salvadorian army used to do. They would conduct "sweeps" through rural areas, looking for rebels.  The people, terrified of their brutality, would run from them.  And the fact that they ran would be taken as proof they were rebels.

    The helicopter used to attack the refugees was US made.  Being merely "vehicles," helicopters were considered non-lethal aid.

    I think you are right that there is a huge institutional inertia that any President faces. Did Carter know that helicopters were included in non-lethal aid?  Did he understand what that meant?  Were helicopters even supposed to be included, or was that slipped in by someone lower down, some official who still held the Nixon-era attitude that saw Salvadorian rebels as evil communists?

    Let it be said to Jimmy Carter’s credit that the rulers in El Salvador at least felt the limits he placed on them enough to chaff at them.  In the richest section of San Salvador, where the high government officials live, there were parties and open rejoicing the night that Ronald Reagan defeated Carter. They knew they’d be free to do whatever they pleased without any complaint from him.

    I don’t know, none of us know, how thoroughly and consistently President Obama will attempt to make human rights part of his foreign policy.  I believe that he will try.  I believe he does in fact understand human rights as part of a long-term vision of creating a safer and more peaceful, as well as more just, world.  But he too will be working to change the course of a huge and unwieldy bureaucracy.  And he’ll be dealing with the pressure of many other priorities as well.  

    Still, I’m looking forward eagerly to seeing how far he can and will go.

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