The Papers of George Lister: "Mr Human Rights"

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Central America


With high poverty rates, political instability, and proximity to the United States and Cuba, Central America proved to be a fertile ground for the ideological and military struggles of the Cold War. As civil wars ensued in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, Central America also became the focus of much of the human rights movement in the 1980s.

George Lister kept a close eye on developments in Central America, and he was sensitive to how U.S. policymakers and diplomats viewed the region. His concern with U.S. paternalism is evident in a memorandum in which he expresses frustration with constant references to the region as ''our backyard.'' When someone in the Bureau suggested Lister's concerns might be allayed by referring to Central America as ''our frontyard,'' Lister was not appeased. ''The offensive words are 'our yard' Lister wrote in a follow-up memo. ''Can't we just refer to Central America as 'our neighbor' and to its inhabitants as 'our neighbors?' That would be better manners, less provincial, and much smarter politically.''


Selected Documents:

Memo from Lister to Elliott Abrams about referring to Central America as
Memo from Lister to Elliott Abrams about referring to Central America as "our backyard," 1983.

Video Clips:
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Central America: Deploying Human Rights

Joseph Eldridge on Lister and U.S. involvement in Nicaragua, Chile and El Salvador
Joseph Eldridge Transcript (pdf)

Joseph Eldridge on resistance movements in Central America
Joseph Eldridge Transcript (pdf)

George Lister Conference Clip

Streaming Video of Human Rights and U.S. Foreign Policy