Reagan, Ronald

Reagan, Ronald
   President of the United States (1981–1989). In the presidential election of November 1980, Reagan, a conservative Republican, defeated Jimmy Carter, the incumbent Democratic president. Reagan attacked Carter’s human-rights policy, blaming it for weakening the United States in relation to international communism. The Carter policy, Reagan charged, was not sufficiently aimed at human-rights violations committed by communist nations. Instead, the policy focused on and helped undermine regimes in Iran and Nicaragua, for example, regimes that, however authoritarian and repressive, had been friendly to the United States. Reagan placed the concept of human rights within the context of the Cold War. To the Reagan administration, protecting human rights was equated with fighting communism. To personify this shift in policy, Reagan appointed Jeane Kirkpatrick to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (UN) and nominated Ernest Lefever to be assistant secretary of state for Human Rights and Humanitarian affairs, a post occupied by Patricia Derian during the Carter administration. Lefever’s nomination failed to win confirmation in Congress: his views on human rights were too conservative—and his personality too abrasive—for both Republicans and Democrats alike. Elliott Abrams was confirmed to the post instead. Like Lefever, Abrams saw communist regimes to be the main target of U.S. human-rights policy. Unlike Lefever, he advanced an argument that was much more nuanced, speaking of the need to criticize violations committed by U.S. allies.
   At the UN Kirkpatrick attacked the human-rights records of communist nations while defending the records of its authoritarian allies, including the military regimes of the Southern Cone. Yet by 1980 the generals in Uruguay had already begun lengthy negotiations with civilian leaders, the result of which were national elections in 1984 and a return to democracy a year later. Argentina returned to democratic rule in 1983, the collapse of the military due in large part to its defeat in the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas war, in which Reagan sided with Britain. Chile would remain under military rule until the end of the decade, but by 1985, the beginning of Reagan’s second term in office, U.S. policy toward authoritarian allies began to shift. Kirkpatrick was no longer at the UN, and Richard Schifter, a moderate, had replaced Abrams. Although its policy was still centered on anticommunism, the Reagan administration began to realize that government oppression was not so much eliminating opposition forces as sustaining them. Hence it began to apply pressure for change on authoritarian regimes such as Chile and Paraguay.

Historical Dictionary of the “Dirty Wars” . . 2010.

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