John F. Kennedy photo

Address at a Dinner at the San Carlos Palace in Bogota.

December 17, 1961

Mr. President:

I want to express our great appreciation to the President for his generous words tonight, and also to the people of this city and to this country for their heart-warming welcome to Mrs. Kennedy and myself. I must say, that though we are far from home, you made us feel at home, so we want to express our thanks to you, and all of the citizens of your city and country.

In 1934, one of the greatest of my predecessors., President Franklin Roosevelt, was the first President of the United States to visit this country. He came in pursuit of a new policy--the policy of the Good Neighbor. This policy--based on the ideas of Bolivar and San Martin and Santander--recognized the common interests of the American states--denied that any nation in this hemisphere had the right to impose its will on any other nation--and called for a great cooperative effort to strengthen the spirit of human liberty here in the Americas.

I am here today--the second American President to visit Colombia--in that same spirit. For our generation also has a new policy--la Alianza para el Progreso. Today again, that policy calls for a joint effort to protect and extend the values of our civilization-going beyond the Good Neighbor policy to a great unified attack on the problems of our age. Today again, we deny the right of any state to impose its will upon any other. And today again, these new policies are based upon the vision and the imagination of the great statesmen of Latin America.

In 1960, your distinguished President, Dr. Lleras Camargo, addressed the United States Congress of which I was a Member. He spoke of the need for the American states to work together to conquer the evils of poverty and injustice. He called for participation by the United States. And, later in the same visit, he said, and I quote him, that "it is necessary to make a supreme effort in each country, with the cooperation of all the others, to prevent Western civilization from being threatened within the very stronghold that has defended it."

Those warnings of your President have been heard. The cooperative effort of our great free nations has begun. Help has already begun. And the stronghold of our civilization, the individual dignity of the individual, free man--has begun to strengthen the bulwarks of freedom.

No American has contributed more to this progress than your President who is universally admired as one of the great statesmen of this hemisphere. As a principal architect of the Rio Treaty and as Director General of the Organization of American States, he has striven to perfect the Inter-American system which was the dream of the man who once lived in this house-Simon Bolivar. And, recently, his bold initiative has strengthened the OAS against those extra-continental forces which seek to impose a new tyranny upon the Americas. As your President he has restored democratic government, strengthened your economy, and worked, within the free institutions, to improve the welfare of all Colombians. His concept of progressive, democratic government is at the heart of la Alianza para el Progreso. And I leave this country tonight strengthened in purpose and understanding by his wise counsels.

But I know that Dr. Lleras Camargo would be the first to agree that even these impressive accomplishments of the past are inadequate in the face of the immense and urgent problems which now confront us.

Bolivar, in a letter written when he was in exile, and the cause of liberty seemed dim, wrote: "The veil has been torn asunder. We have already seen the light and it is not our desire to be thrust back into the darkness." In our time the veil again has been torn asunder. The millions of our people who have lived in hopeless poverty--patiently suffering hunger, social injustice, and ignorance--have now glimpsed the hope of a better and more abundant life for themselves and their children. And they do not intend to be thrust back into darkness.

La Alianza para el Progreso is designed to transform this hope into a reality. It calls for a vast and immediate effort on the part of all the Americas to satisfy the basic needs of our people for work and land, and homes and schools. It expects within the next ten years--the Decade of Development--to be well on the way toward satisfying these basic needs.

Much has already been done since la Alianza para el Progreso was announced on March 13. And today at Techo I saw some of the results of this effort.

There President Lleras and I--in the presence of the families of hundreds of workers--dedicated a housing project in which more than eighty thousand people will, for the first time, know what it will be like to live in a home in which they would want to raise their children. We also dedicated one of 18 schools--in which 30,000 children, the most valuable asset of this hemisphere--will be given their opportunity to study and to learn, and to build their lives.

And along with the social progress symbolized by the Techo project will also come an intensive effort to develop and industrialize the economies of Latin America-reducing dependence on raw materials and steadily narrowing the relative gap between the wealthy industrialized countries and the Republics of Latin America.

Thus la Alianza para el Progreso is a program which is revolutionary in its dimensions. It calls for staggering efforts by us all and unprecedented changes by us all. It raises far-reaching aspirations and demands difficult sacrifices. And although we have already done much in a short time, we must do much more and act much more swiftly in the months to come. For on the success of the Alliance--on our success in this hemisphere--depends the future of that human dignity and national independence for which our forebears in every country of the hemisphere struggled.

After the American wars of independence, the President of Colombia, Santander, said: "Arms have given us independence; laws will give us freedom." These prophetic words I think indicate the history of our hemisphere. For our real progress has not come about through violence or tyranny, but under the guidance of democratic leaders who realized the great capacity of free society for peaceful change--men such as Franklin Roosevelt in my own country and your distinguished President in your country.

It is this knowledge and experience which is the great contribution of our nations to the other nations of the world. There are those who tell us that the only road to economic progress is by violent Communist revolution, followed by the complete subjection of man to the will of the state.

They come with banners proclaiming that they have new doctrines; that history is on their side. But, in reality, they bring a doctrine which is as old as the Pharaohs of Egypt, and like the Pharaohs of Egypt, doomed by history.

They promise free elections, and free speech, and freedom of religion. But once power is achieved, elections are eliminated, speech is stifled, and the worship of God is prohibited.

They pledge economic progress and increased human welfare. But they have been unable to fulfill these pledges and their failure is etched in the dramatic contrast between a free and powerful and prosperous Western Europe and the grim, drab poverty of Communist Eastern Europe, or the hunger of China, or the wall which separates West Berlin from East Berlin. The fact is that the wall and the rifle squads of the last twelve months have shown us again--if we did not need to be shown--that when such doctrines have had to face the united will of free men, they have been defeated.

We are a young and strong people. Our doctrines--the doctrines lit by the leaders of your country and mine--now burn brightly in Africa and Asia and wherever men struggle to be free. And here in our own hemisphere we have successfully resisted efforts to impose the despotisms of the Old World on the nations of the New.

Today we face the greatest challenge to the vitality of our American revolution. Millions of our people--scattered across a vast and rich continent--endure lives of misery. We must prove to them that free institutions can best answer their implacable demand for social justice, for food, for material welfare and above all, for a new hope--for themselves and for their children. And in so proving the blessings of freedom in Latin America, we will be teaching the same lesson to a watchful and impatient world.

We in the United States have made many mistakes in our relations with Latin America. We have not always understood the magnitude of your problems, or accepted our share of responsibility for the welfare of the hemisphere. But we are committed in the United States--our will and our energy--to an untiring pursuit of that welfare and I have come to this country to reaffirm that dedication.

The leaders of Latin America, the industrialists and the landowners are, I am sure, also ready to admit past mistakes and accept new responsibilities. For unless all of us are willing to contribute our resources to national development, unless all of us are prepared not merely to accept, but initiate, basic land and tax reforms, unless all Of us take the lead in improving the welfare of our people; then that leadership will he taken from us and the heritage of centuries of Western civilization will be consumed in a few months of violence.

This is the message I bring to those of us who are here tonight--and I am grateful that I have had an opportunity to be with you.

But I also want to talk to those beyond this dinner table, and beyond this room, and this old house. And that message is for the millions of people in a thousand cities and villages throughout the mountains and lands of our hemisphere. To all of them-to the workers, to the carnpesinos on the farms, to the women who toil each day for the welfare of their children--to all we bring a message of hope. Every day, every hour, in my country and in this country, and in all the countries of this hemisphere dedicated men and women are struggling to bring nearer the day when all have more to eat, and a decent roof over their heads, and schools for their children--when all will have a better and more abundant life to accompany that human dignity to which all men are entitled, and that love of freedom to which all of us are committed by our inheritance and our desire.

And tonight, here in this old city, I pledge to you the commitment of the United States of America, to that great cause.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 10:10 p.m. at the San Carlos Palace.. His opening words "Mr. President" referred to Alberto Lleras Camargo, President of Colombia.

Another text of this address was released by the White House prior to its actual delivery.

John F. Kennedy, Address at a Dinner at the San Carlos Palace in Bogota. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/235873

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