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By Margaret Crahan

From the Introduction

A prime impediment to the utilization of human rights criteria to build a more effective United States foreign policy has been the prevalence of popular misconceptiona in this area. One of the most common misconceptions is that a strong human rights posture is antithetical to the pursuit of national security interests. An alternative position is that these two priorities are mutually supportive, with the promotion of basic human rights being the key to long-term domestic and international stability. Recent developments in the Western hemisphere have highlighted the relationship between the international satisfaction of basic rights and the maintenance of United States' stability. For example, as the destabilizing effects of massive emigration become more apparent, the benefits of United States' assistance in meeting socio-economic needs in other countries has become more apparent. The case of Mexico is indicative. Since the 1920s, Mexico as been one of the most politically stable countries of Latin America. This is, in part, due to the fact that while substantial economic inequalities exist in Mexico, there has been improvement over time in meeting food, housing, sanitation, health care, and educational  needs. Recent Mexican economic reverses have led to a massive upsurge of immigrants to the United States and the growing realization of the need for increased United States assistance in fulfilling socio-economic needs in Mexico. The Caribbean Basin Initiative is another reflection of this growing belief.

This essay argues that a foreign policy supportive of greater national and international observance of human rights is likely to promote political stability. To accomplish this it is necessary to transcend popular stereotypes and incorporate human rights criteria into the making of United States' foreign policy. To stimulate this process--which is already underway, albeit haltingly-- this study will examine the nature of the human rights problem as it related to the Americas, the consequences if rights violations for hemispheric stability, past United States foreign policy concerning human rights, the means developed (particularly in Latin America) to defend human rights, and the question of whether the United States can assist in these efforts while respecting the principle of non-intervention. The paper concludes with some specific recommendations for United States' human rights initiatives in the 1980s. These are derived from past experience and to not hold forth any guarantee of utopia. It is hoped that they might make United States' foreign policy more effective, and ultimately conducive to hemispheric stability rooted in social concord.

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Latin American Program

The Wilson Center’s prestigious Latin American Program provides non-partisan expertise to a broad community of decision makers in the United States and Latin America on critical policy issues facing the Hemisphere. The Program provides insightful and actionable research for policymakers, private sector leaders, journalists, and public intellectuals in the United States and Latin America. To bridge the gap between scholarship and policy action, it fosters new inquiry, sponsors high-level public and private meetings among multiple stakeholders, and explores policy options to improve outcomes for citizens throughout the Americas. Drawing on the Wilson Center’s strength as the nation’s key non-partisan forum, the Program serves as a trusted source of analysis and a vital point of contact between the worlds of scholarship and action.  Read more