A similar phenomenon may explain the tentative steps toward democracy in Central America. Beginning with Jimmy Carter's human-rights policy and continuing with congressional and then Administration pressure for the spread of democratic values in the hemisphere, Latin American military leaders finally realized they had to change their ways if they wished to receive U.S. aid. But there is an important difference between the U.S. South and Central America. The role of the federal government in the U.S. South was and is decisive. The role of the U.S. government in Central America is only important. The result, in places like El Salvador, is therefore not extirpation of the forces of terror but only a pause in their activity to see whether the North Americans are serious this time and how emboldened the local opposition becomes as it enjoys temporary safety.
Does this mean the cause of democracy in Latin America is hopeless? Not at all. But the U.S. time perspective must be longer and its policy more closely linked to Latin American realities if lasting progress to democracy is to be made.
The key is the military. There is nothing inherently anti-democratic about Latin American military leaders. Americans, for example, tend to think of the Argentine military as incorrigibly anti-democratic. But at the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th, Argentina enjoyed 65 years of orderly transfers of power while the political life of most other Latin states was convulsed by military coups and countercoups.
At that time the military officers of Argentina were drawn from the professional classes and trained on the battlefield in wars with Brazil and Paraguay. But at the beginning of the 20th Century, Argentina established a military academy on the Prussian model. Most instructors were German and in the early 1920s it was estimated that more than half the Argentine officers had studied in Germany. The military began to think of itself much like the German professional army--as a special caste with responsibilities larger than those entrusted to mere political figures. This army trained Col. Enrique Bermudez, the leading military figure of the Contras. He is a graduate of the Argentine Military Academy. So was the former president of Honduras, Gen. Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, another favorite of those in the Reagan Administration carrying out the Contra policy.
Anti-democratic attitudes among the Latin American military can be turned around but only over time and with a determined effort. For the effort to succeed, the United States will have to order its own military and intelligence organizations to eschew the kinds of associations with many of the more corrupt and violent members of the Latin American military that have come to light in recent years. It will have to make a clear decision that future U.S. interests lie with the hemisphere's civilian authorities. The United States must do its share to bring the men with the guns under control.