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Exchange With Reporters in San Jose, Costa Rica, on the Situation in Nicaragua

October 27, 1989

Q. Do you regard the Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega as a popularly elected leader, sir?

President Bush. We're here to salute democracy. And I want to see Nicaragua become a democratic country, and I don't want to see them swimming against the tide of democracy that is sweeping this hemisphere and that we're saluting here today -- 100 years of Costa Rican democracy.

Q. But you don't regard him as a popularly elected leader?

President Bush. I want to see a free and fair election in Nicaragua, and I think most of the leaders here today want to see that. And they want to see the army be under the control of the elected leaders, and they want to see the Nicaraguan people have what others have -- not all, but most -- a chance to have democratically elected leaders.

Q. What is the chance of that? Why do you say that?

President Bush. Because look at the whole world, Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International]. And the forces of democracy are on the move. We're here today to salute Costa Rica's -- a lot of kind of sophisticated people don't quite understand why all of us are getting together. What we're doing is symbolizing the importance on democracy. And one or two that are swimming against the tide -- maybe we'll get a chance to tell them how important democracy is.

Q. Will you tell them?

Q. Well, you said you expect to see a hemisphere without -- --

President Bush. You all are looking for some kind of fight. I'm here to celebrate democracy. You're just trying to get me into a big slugging match here. Come on. I'll let you know if there is one.

Q. President Arias, do you feel that Ortega is swimming against the tide?

President Arias. Well, if the elections he plans to hold are free and fair and give equal opportunities to all the political parties, then he will be swimming along the tide -- or with the tide.

Q. What do you think the chances are of that happening?

President Arias. I think that the eyes of the world are on Managua now. And there is a lot of pressure for the Sandinistas to hold those elections as free and fair as possible. It's not easy because that country is not used to free elections. They haven't had free elections in more than 100 years, but there is always a beginning, and we all hope that beginning starts on the 25th of February, when those elections are held.

Q. Are you going to tell Ortega that?

President Arias. I've told him that many, many times.

Q. President Bush, will you get the opportunity to tell him that as well?

President Bush. Tell him what?

Q. Tell him that this is an opportunity for him to have free and fair elections.

President Bush. Well, I think the United States position is well-known on that. Absolutely, I'll tell the world that.

Q. Will you tell him -- --

President Bush. We'll let you know, Lesley [Lesley Stahl, CBS News]. We'll let you know.

Q. Mr. President, have free elections in Nicaragua been preempted?

President Bush. Come on, we've got to get to work here.

Note: President Bush spoke at 10:25 a.m. at the Hotel Cariari, prior to a meeting with President Oscar Arias Sanchez. A tape was not available for verification of the contents of the exchange.

George Bush, Exchange With Reporters in San Jose, Costa Rica, on the Situation in Nicaragua Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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