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#86 The Recent Rapid Redefinitions of US Interests and Diplomacy in Central America

By Richard Feinberg

During the last decade, Central America has passed from being a quiet backwater of little interest to American policymakers to an area of priority concern. This paper distinguishes five phases in U.S. policy toward the region during the 1975-81 period.

In the early 1970s, the U.S. was satisfied with the surface stability provided by conservative military-dominated governments. In phase two, the Carter administration's human-rights policies disrupted traditional ties. In the third period (roughly 1978 to mid-1979), the U.S. sought to stage-manage a controlled evolution of disintegrating political systems. When this failed, first in Nicaragua and then in El Salvador, an administration confronted with discontinuity applied distinctive policies to cope with different situations. Finally, in 1981 the Reagan administration redefined Central America as a major theatre of U.S.-Soviet competition. This paper describes and analyzes this rapid evolution in U.S. perceptions of, and policies toward, Central America.


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