Latin America views Reagan: 'not ideal' but better than Carter

It is common wisdom that Latin Americans generally prefer a Democrat in the White House. But this election year they are not so sure. Indeed, there is no great enthusiasm for either candidate.

"Would we be better off with Carter or Reagan?" asked Mexico City's Excelsior , concluding: "We don't know. Neither seems a particularly good choice." Such comments are typical of both government leaders and the press.

If there were choices, however, it would appear Governor Reagan would have a slight edge. There are several reasons: The military governments of the hemisphere, smarting under the human-rights attacks of the Carter administration , feel they would fare better with Governor Reagan. The Republican candidate has indicated he would change the tone of US human-rights advocacy, while not altering the basic premise that the United States is committed to fostering human rights everywhere.

In addition, Governor Reagan has made clear that he basically favors democratic government over dictatorships in Latin America, holding that democracy ultimately is a better protection against communism than military governments.

Moreover, Governor Reagan says he would base his hemisphere foreign policy on closer cooperation with Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico -- three countries that for various reasons have not been particularly happy with President Carter, even though he is a Democrat. In a way, as a government official in Mexico put it, "Carter is a known quantity and hasn't been much of a friend; we don't know about Reagan, but could he be worse?"

However, many Latin American commentators -- including those who tend to like the US as well as those who quarrel with US policies -- are amazed that the US voter is stuck with the choice between Carter and Reagan. Neither is seen as particularly attractive.

"There must be better men and women in the United States," said Hector Macias , a radio commentator, in a report from Caracas.

At the same time, there is frankly very little understanding of Rep. John Anderson's candidacy -- and most of the news stories and commentary tend to ignore him.

Carter and Reagan get the bulk of the coverage in the Latin America. And if Latin Americans felt rapport with President Carter, they be supportive of his candidacy.

After all, they and their countries seem to benefit more from Democrats than from Republicans. It is not overlooked by Latin Americans, for example, that the Alliance for Progress, which brought about major reform and development in the hemisphere in the 1960s, was largely the work of President Kennedy, a Democrat.

Moreover, there have been moments of deep-seated antipathy between Latin Americans and the Republicans in the US. Take Richard Nixon. He was widely disliked for actions and statements that go back to the time he was vice-president in the 1950s.

Reagan, although a Republican, does not suffer much from party association with Nixon.

"Sure, he is a Republican," comments a leading Latin American in Washington. "But he is not a Republican of the Nixon school; he is not a crook and he is not even perceived that way. He may not be everyone's ideal candidate, but given the choice between Carter and Reagan, many of us Latin Americans do not feel too upset over a Reagan win.

"He might just turn out to be a rather good president and could not, in our view, be much worse than the present incumbent, who has not been a very good friend to Latin America and Latin Americans."

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