The Reagan Administration has made faint efforts to fake an attitude toward human rights; it has made no effort to implement a policy. Let’s look at the record.
§ U.S. representative to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick put forth the theory that authoritarianism is better than totalitarianism. Irving Kristol and other neoconservatives were quick to rally behind this construct. Kirkpatrick claimed that in some places, notably Latin America, the people were not ready for democracy and that authoritarian governments were therefore an understandable, if regrettable, development. Despite right-wing efforts to resuscitate it, the authoritarian-totalitarian dichotomy has, blessedly, been laid to rest. The outrage generated by the description of torture and anti-Semitism in Argentina in Jacobo Timerman’s Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number and the Polish workers’ courageous struggle for economic and human rights in a “totalitarian” country showed how false the distinction was.
§ In his mid-January confirmation hearings before the Senate, Secretary of State Alexander Haig responded to a question about his position on the U.S. law prohibiting military and economic assistance to governments that violate human rights by saying, “In general, I support this provision of the Foreign Assistance Act. I do not believe we should, other than in the most exceptional circumstances, provide aid to any country which consistently and in the harshest manner violates the rights of its citizens. ” But even before the transcripts of that hearing were released, Administration officials were lobbying members of Congress to repeal legislation prohibiting military assistance to Argentina, where the ruling junta and its supporters are responsible for the murders of countless citizens. This same government routinely confiscates property, detains people in prison without pressing charges and practices torture, and it has been charged by human-rights groups with causing the disappearance of approximately 15,000 Argentines.
§ At a late January press conference, Haig said, “International terrorism will take the place of human rights [in] our concern, because it is the ultimate abuse of human rights.” At the time Haig made that statement, the United States was continuing its attempt to extradite the terrorists it believes participated, with the approval of the Chilean government, in the Washington, D.C., assassinations of Orlando Letelier, a former minister in Salvador Allende’s government, and Ronnie Moffitt, an American citizen and an associate of Letelier’s at the Institute for Policy Studies. Immediately after Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, the extradition efforts were abandoned, and Chile began to feel the warm sun of American friendship. Chile took part in the annual U.S.-South American naval exercise this year, the ban on Export-Import Bank loans to Chile was lifted, and U.S. representatives to international banks were ordered to support loans to Chile. In addition, Kirkpatrick recently visited August0 Pinochet, Chile’s president. So much for Chilean terrorism. Then, the Reagan Administration, after declaring the Soviet Union to be the greatest supporter of terrorism in the world, abandoned the wheat embargo imposed by Jimmy Carter in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and negotiated new grain sales with the U.S.S.R. No further policy to combat Soviet-supported terrorism has been proposed.