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Reagan and Latin America

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Now that candidate Reagan has become President-elect Reagan his foreign policy tasks include two that are particularly close to home: * To correct the dangerous political conclusions that some Latin Americans seem to have drawn from his campaign;

* To foster a climate for meeting the perennial question of United States "neglect" of its southern neighbors.

Both matters are in the air as the Organization of American States (OAS) holds its tenth general assembly in Washington -- and as Argentinian dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winned Adolfo Perez Esquivel visits the US to defend human rights as "the voice of those who have no voice." A major topic on the OAS agenda is consideration of alleged widespread violations of human rights in Latin America, with a special lengthy report devoted to Argentina.

The time seems appropriate for Mr. Reagan to stress the concern for human rights and for consistency in US support of them that he expressed immediately after the election. This could offset the apparent gleeful expectation in Argentina and other repressive quarters that a Reagan administration will turn a blind eye to their excesses. It could prevent a feeding of the fears that the Reagan victory may encourage right-wing coups in Latin America. An extreme indication of possible right-wing exploitation of the victory came in El Salvador where two murder victims were found with signs on them saying, "With Ronald Reagan, the miscreants and guerrillas of Central America and El Salvador will be finished."

The President-elect could help to discourage such tragic misreadings by voicing in relation in Latin America the kind of things we have heard this week in relation to South Korea and, indeed, to his own United States. Some had felt the Reagan win might encourage the carrying out of South Korea's death sentence given dissident Kim Dae Jung on charges of sedition which the US had called "far-fetched." Now a senior Reagan aide has affirmed that "it would be an error" for the Seoul government to take the election results as meaning the US no longer opposes the execution. He said the execution would harm relations between the two countries.


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