Reagan, Central America and the Human Costs to Waging the Cold War

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Virginia Tech

Since the introduction of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, the United States has maintained a sphere of influence in Latin America. This hegemony has yielded beneficial results, such as the Panama Canal, and at times, has caused more harm than good. The later result has been the dominant outcome beginning with 1954 and the Central Intelligence Agency's foray into Guatemala. U.S. foreign policy has enabled or sanctioned actions resulting in human rights abuses. This can be easily viewed through the Reagan Administration's re-ignition of Cold War politics based on realist international relations theory

This particular foreign policy blueprint is based on one geo-political thought: Communist Rollback. Due to this, other concerns, such as human rights, were relegated to a lesser priority. The purpose of this thesis is to determine the extent to which U.S. foreign policy undermined human rights in Central America during the decade of the Reagan Administration. By understanding the effects of Reagan's singular focus, this thesis seeks to bring clarity to the deficiencies of current or potentially future foreign policy models. To understand the impact of U.S. foreign policy this thesis will explore three key case countries: Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. These crossroads of policy between the Reagan Administration and their Central American counterparts will dictate decisions made publicly and secretly that will be the impetus of human rights abuses that are still being uncovered thirty years later. What we will discover is that, ultimately, containment policy failed to slow socialism as an alternative to capitalism and democracy in some of these states at the expense of the human rights of native citizens.

History, Latin America, Human Rights