“An Open Letter to Jimmy Carter”, an article by Dr. Leonel FernándezAugust 17, 2015
Dear President and Friend:
A short while ago, for health reasons, you suspended a trip to Guyana, where you were meant to head a delegation to monitor the electoral process in that South American nation, causing the rest of us in the delegation a bit of worry. Our minds were put at ease, however, when we found out that you had almost immediately returned to your everyday labors.
Nonetheless, we’ve now been dismayed at your revelations
that after a recent liver surgery, it’s been discovered that you have cancer, and that it has been found in other parts of your body.
I shall never forget the first time we met, roundabout 1988, when Professor Juan Bosch asked me to represent him in acceptance of the invitation made to him to participate in the Democratic Party Convention held in Atlanta, Georgia, to choose Michael Dukakis as the presidential candidate for that year’s
There we had the opportunity to meet each other, and I shared the possibility of your leading a commission to the Dominican Republic in 1990 to monitor the presidential elections that would take place that year.
And you did. In 1990 you came to our country. I recall a meeting with you, Professor Bosch, and other leaders of the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) in the home of the architect Eduardo Selman, now the current Dominican consul in New
We remember all your efforts and eagerness to ensure we Dominicans held fair, clean, and transparent elections. We likewise remember your conversation with the leader and founder of our Party the day after the elections, when within our ranks we harbored the conviction that the will of the people had been adulterated.
We shall never forget, distinguished friend, the cordiality and charm with which you received the Political Committee
commission for the PLD, headed by Mr. Vicente Bengoa, in your office at the Carter Center, where they presented our evidence on the irregularities and fraudulent acts committed during that electoral contest.
In short, we have many reasons to remember you always with affection, respect, and admiration. But your work in support of peace, democracy, development, and respect for human rights surpass our good memories to now enjoy recognition at the global level.
The man from Georgia
As you yourself would readily admit, at the beginning you were not seen as the figure who would in 1976 become President of the United States. Just five years before you had been elected Governor of the State of Georgia; and the truth is that outside your jurisdiction, you were practically unheard of.
But events would be unleashed that you, based on your work, talent, and dedication, would well know
how to make the most of. The Watergate scandal broke out, putting a calamitous end to the government of president Richard Nixon.
The American people were fed up of Washington politicians. They wanted someone from outside the traditional circles of power. Thus is was that you, with your moral message of a return to values, managed to defeat your rival, president Gerald Ford, who had replaced Nixon.
We know you faced enormous challenges during your
administration: a serious problem of economic stagnation with high inflation and high levels of unemployment, dubbed “stagflation” by economists of that period.
No less difficult was the energy crisis, when many of your fellow citizens had to queue up for hours to get gasoline in your country’s filling stations.
At the international level, we recall how your government was surprised by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan,
which at that time was seen by high-level advisors in your administration as an attempt by the Kremlin to take control of Middle Eastern oil wells, thereby putting at risk the industrial production capacity of the Western world.
We’re likewise conscious of what it meant to your government to see the triumph of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, under the leadership of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini; the hostage crisis at the U.S. embassy in Tehran; and the resounding
failure of the ensuing rescue attempt, which ended with the downing of aircraft and the deaths of several American officials and soldiers.
But on the other hand, your achievements were more than notable. You were the head of state who properly formalized diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, after several decades of bilateral silence. It was you who sponsored the Camp David Peace Accords between Israel and Egypt as a way of moving towards a
solution in the conflict between Jews and Arabs.
It was you who, defying the imperialist tradition of certain powerful groups in your country and clamorous public opinion, signed the Torrijos–Carter Treaties on the Panama Canal with that Panamian general, ordering the canal’s return for administration to those to whom it legitimately belonged: the Panamanian people.
It was also you who introduced the concept of human rights as the highest
value and cardinal principle in the handling of United States foreign policy, which prompted radical changes in the modus operandi of key actors on the international scene.
But although it doesn’t appear in your memoir, Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President, nor your more recent book White House Diary, what’s certain is that it was your participation in the Dominican Republic elections in 1978 that gave rise, not
just to a new chapter in the contemporary history of our country, but to the process of democratic transition in Latin America overall.
The universal man
It’s now popular knowledge that it all began with the visit of president Joaquín Balaguer to Washington, D.C., in 1977, occasioned precisely by the signing of those treaties on the Panama Canal.
At that opportunity, according to Víctor Grimaldi and Marino
Mendoza, two Dominican journalists who covered the meeting in the White House, you, Mr. Carter, impressed on president Balaguer the need for the 1978 Dominican elections to be “open and free and a model for all of the universality of the right to vote and the free expression of thought by the people to choose their own governors.”
Your words, president and friend, changed the course of history—not just here, in the Dominican Republic, where the attempt
to suspend the counting of votes was subdued by pressure from your government and other democratic nations, but in all of Latin America, where from that moment onward the movement of transition from despotic and authoritarian regimes toward civil governments elected by democratic means began.
Since then more than three decades have passed, over which time the people of Latin America have advanced in consolidating their democracies, in respect for human rights, and in
progress in terms of both economic and social wellbeing.
Much of this is due to you. But it was also more than three decades ago that you left the White House, and since then your work has been nothing if not praiseworthy. Via the Carter Center, in Atlanta, you have maintained an international presence, monitoring elections, negotiating peace processes, building homes for the poor, and combating catastrophic diseases in remote places such as sub-Saharan Africa.
There are those who say you’re the best ex-president in U.S. history, and I don’t doubt it. For all your work for the benefit of humankind, you were appropriately and deservingly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.
Over the years I’ve had the privilege of sharing time with you under various circumstances. On multiple occasions I’ve returned to visit you at the Carter Center, and we’ve participated in
conferences and seminars together. We’ve also worked together, alongside members of your team, in electoral monitoring processes.
Over the years, my admiration for you has only grown. For that reason, I’m deeply proud that during my own administration we were able to recognize all your contributions with the highest honor given by our country, the Order of Merit of Duarte, Sánchez, and Mella, the Dominican Republic’s Founding
You, Mr. Carter, have a great challenge ahead. Nonetheless, we hold onto hope that with the help of our Lord, you will emerge unscathed. World peace requires your presence.
Meanwhile, please receive cordial greetings from a friend who profoundly appreciates, admires, and respects you.