Venezuela's foreign minister today strongly critizied the Carter administrations' decision to strengthen U.S. security forces in the Caribbean as a response to Soviet "combat" troops in Cuba.
In a speech to the General Assembly of the Organization of American States, attended by Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, Foreign Minister Jose Ambrano Velasco said Venezuela considers the U.S. military build up "unfortunate" because it will polarize the region and "compromise the credibility of the United States" since the situation is difficult to qualify as an "authentic crisis."
According to diplomatic observers here, Ambrano Velasco's speech was the first time that Venezuela -- one of the closest U.S. allies in Latin America -- has registered public disapproval of Washington's response to the Soviet troops of Cuba and the increasingly leftist governments in Jamaica, St. Lucia, Granada and Guyana.
U.S. officials accompanying Vance, who left the Washington late this afternoon, refused to comment on the foreign minister's speech. Vance, in his own speech, referred to the administration's new policy in the Caribbean, saying that it is designed to "help preserve the freedom of choice and action of the member states of this organization."
U.S. officials with Vance in La Paz have repeatedly stressed that the heart of the Caribbean policy is not to build up America's military forces in the region but rather to increase economic assistance to the small island nations in order to deny "targets of opportunity" to Cuba and the Soviet Union.
Today, Vance also stressed the administration's continuing commitment to human rights in Latin America. "We cannot close our eyes to torture or killings, to disappearances or arbitrary detention," Vance said.
"We must distinguish between violence and subversion on the one hand and legitimate dissent on the other. The suppression of legitimate rights cannot be justified in the name of national security," he said, clearly referring to the current situation in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraquay and Chile.
After his speech this morning, Vance hosted a lunch at the U.S. embassy for the leaders of Bolivia's major political parties, four former presidents of the country and the leaders of Bolivia's armed forces.The lunch, according to Ambassador Paul Boeker, was meant to convey the Carter administration's strong support for Bolivia's recent return to civilian government after more than a decade of military rule.
In another development, State Department spokesman Tom Reston confirmed earlier reports that the administration has decided to send Ambassador George W. Landau back to Chile "in the near future."
Landau was recalled to Washington two weeks ago to consult on what steps might be appropriate to show dissatisfaction with a recent court decision in Santiago that denied a trial for three Chilean secret police officers charged in the United States with the 1976 assassination of exile leader Orlando Letelier.
The administration reportedly has decided to block the minor amounts of economic and military aid still in the pipeline to Chile to demonstrate displeasure with the court decision, a form of retaliation that Chileans have termed virtually meaningless.
In Santiago two weeks ago, both supporters and opponents of Chile's current military government said that only a cut in private bank loans, accompanied by Landau's permanent recall, would demonstrate a serious U.s. determination to see the three officers brought to justice.