Jimmy Carter, US President from 1977 to 1981, is highly respected in Latin America. Driven by a sincere Christian faith, Carter believes that the United States ought to respect human rights in the conduct of its foreign policy. His administration took two important steps that symbolized respect for the autonomy of Latin American governments: negotiating control of the Panama Canal by the government of Panama; and the establishment of limited diplomatic relations with Cuba, through the agreement for a Cuban Interest Section in Washington and a US Interest Section in Havana.
But Carter’s moral evaluation of US policy was limited in scope. It did not question the fundamental structures of the neocolonial world-system that promote underdevelopment and poverty in vast regions of the world. Carter wanted to respect human rights, but he did not discern that the violation of human rights was a necessary component of the core-peripheral relation between the United States and the Third World. The functionality of repression in the preservation of the neocolonial world-system placed practical constraints on the implementation of Carter’s human rights policy.
Like Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter envisioned a softer and more humane form of imperialism. He accepted as given that the United States policy would continue to promote the economic and financial penetration of US corporations and financial institutions, and that the neocolonial world-system should be preserved. He was seeking moral conduct in the context of immoral social structures.
Carter remains, however, a respected figure, in spite of the limitations of his foreign policy. In part, this is a consequence of his conduct since his presidency. In 1982, he formed the Carter Center, an organization dedicated to human rights, conflict resolution, and the promotion of democracy. The Carter Center has monitored elections in many nations. In 2013, Carter confirmed the legitimacy of the presidential elections in Venezuela, noting that their electoral procedures are the best in the world, thus undermining the destabilizing strategy of the opposition.
Carter visited Cuba in 2002. He was very well-received by the Cuban people and the Cuban government. The visit included an interesting and mutually-respectful interchange at the University of Havana, during which a number of Cubans defended the Cuban political system and criticized the model of representative democracy that Carter had assumed is the only possible form of democracy. Carter also used the occasion of his visit to Cuba to call upon the United States to end its long-standing economic blockade of the island.
Jimmy Carter: A good and decent man who could not escape the structures of the neocolonial world-system.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, Jimmy Carter