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Interview With the President Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Representatives of the Hispanic Media.

May 12, 1978

THE PRESIDENT. Hi, everybody. Thank you very much.

Ordinarily, I start out my meeting with the editors from around the country by emphasizing the most important things that we are addressing at the current moment, just to illustrate what a President does, and then I'll spend all the time that we have available answering your questions.


The most important issue to me right now and for the next few days, by far, is the Middle East arms sales question. We've got, I think, the interest of our own Nation at stake. As you know, one of the most important issues involved in the Mideast arms sales is what will happen to our relationship with President Sadat.

He has taken a worldwide, preeminent stand in searching for peace in the Middle East, at great danger to himself politically. He's separated himself from a dependence on the Soviet Union concerning weapons sales to defend Egypt not against Israel, in particular, but against some of his African neighbors. And I think if the Mideast arms sales proposal is rejected, it would be a terrible blow to President Sadat in his own country and to our relationships with him.

And as you know, both I and my predecessors here on a bipartisan basis have a longstanding commitment to the Saudi Arabians and to the Israelis for this relatively modest arms sales package.

The Saudis had a choice given to them by President Ford and Secretary Kissinger on what type of plane they wanted. They chose the more defensive configuration on the F-15 and the more defensive weapon, which is the F-15, compared to the F-16, primarily an offensive plane.

We consider this a very important issue. I think it's in Israel's best interest to have us be trusted and have friendship with the moderate Arab leaders. We don't want to drive them away from us, to have to turn to some other source of supply for legitimate defensive capability.

My commitment to reduce on an annual basis our total conventional arms sales will be carried out. And we've initiated this past few days, for the first time, direct bilateral negotiations with the Soviet Union, trying to bring them into harmony with us in cutting down on the total quantity of conventional weapons sold around the world.

We've got many other problems that we are addressing now. I'd say the most important domestic issue, overwhelmingly, in the minds of the American people, the Congress, and myself, is to control inflation.

We've had remarkable success, unprecedented and unanticipated success in cutting down on the unemployment rate the last 16 months. We've added a net total of 5 1/2 million jobs since I've been in office, because of the good work of the Congress and a very good working relationship with the private sector and the natural inclination of American people of all kind to work if they have a chance to hold a job.

The unemployment rate, as you know, has dropped about 2 percent. But the first 4 months of this year, we've had disturbing reports on inflation trends which really hurt the poor and the fixed incomed, the retired, the lower wage level workers in our country more than anyone else.

And we are trying to get the private sector, both professional people—accountants, doctors, lawyers, others—to hold down on their own salary increases, their charges.

I met with the retail merchants of the country, the American Federation of Retail Merchants, this week. I met with the leaders of the labor movements this week, and last week met with the leaders of the business community, to try to get them to join with us not with wage and price controls, mandated, but with a voluntary commitment on their part to cut down on the rate of increase of wages and prices, other charges, below what it was the last 2 years.

In other words, '78 would be lower than the average of the last 2 years—not a difficult thing for them to do if we all work in harmony.

Each group, I think, has some concern about what everybody else is going to do. Nobody wants to make a unilateral effort at some sacrifice to them if they think the Government is going to go ahead and spend too much money or the deficit is going to grow, or labor is not going to help if they don't think business will help also. So, I think we can make some progress there.

We are trying to deal with the Federal bureaucracy, which is a difficult thing for any administrator. And I think our civil service reform proposal is a keystone to all the reorganization that I will do while I'm in office.

It also is crucial in the employment of minority American citizens and also women. As you know, we have a very low percentage of Spanish-speaking Americans who are employed by the Federal Government. We have a very low percentage of other minority groups and also women who are employed by the Federal Government.

And the major obstacle to improving this record is the ancient civil service laws that won't let a qualified person be employed. Now, for instance, if we have an opening in Houston, Texas, and a Mexican American citizen scored a hundred on the test, they might very well be 50th on the list of people to get the job because of many reasons, one of which is veterans preference.

I happen to be a veteran and there are tens of millions of Americans who are also veterans like myself. But I see no reason for a person who serves 20 years in the Navy, who retires as a commander, who has a very good retirement income guaranteed for life, to come in and bump a person off the employment list for a Federal job just because he served, to his advantage, in the Navy.

We are preserving the veterans preference for those who have served within the last 10 years. This would take care of all those who have served in the Vietnam war, and for those who are disabled.

So, I would say those three items right now are the things that are most important to me—the Mideast arms sales over this weekend and Monday morning in the Senate, the civil service reform, and dealing with the inflation problem.

I won't take any further time. And I might say I came in a little bit late because I was busy on the telephone, but I'll make the time up to you. And I would like to finish, after I've been in here 25 minutes, so that—if you don't have any objection—I can get a photograph with each one of you.



Q. Mr. President, what does the United States plan to do in practice to denounce and to counter the Soviet-Cuban influence in Africa, besides your warnings?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, when you say besides the warnings, that covers a lot of territory. I have let Brezhnev know directly from me to him, plus through his own Ambassador and Secretary of State Vance when he was there, that the Soviets' continuation of intrusion into Africa with military forces was a major obstacle to trust on the part of the American people that the Soviets want peace and want to have a successful detente effort.

We have aroused as much as we can the developing nations' and the nonaligned nations' leaders to intercede with the Soviets and with Cuba. I think that we've done the best we could among the African nations, particularly the black African nations, to let them know that they are capable and ought to be granted the right to settle their own disputes among themselves. We've done all we could to strengthen the Organization of African Unity and encourage the leaders therein to move aggressively to resolve the disputes that might exist among African people, among themselves, and not call on the Cubans or the Soviets from outside to take a stand.

You might get from Jody, in order to save time now, a more lengthy and definitive answer that I gave at the townhall meeting in Portland [Spokane] this week, where I went into some detail about the Soviets' normal operating procedure. If there is a dispute in a country, unfortunately, they will provide weapons much more quickly and eagerly than will we. And for a limited period of time, they are able to get some influence in that country because of that supply of weapons. But on the long-term basis, I think that our own relationship with them, with the African people, our absence of racism against black people now, our commitment to economic aid rather than military aid, would be a very significant factor.

The other thing that is important is religion. The Soviets are atheistic, and most of the leaders in Africa are deeply religious people. They may be Christian, they may be Moslem, or otherwise. But I think they have a natural distrust of atheists.

So, all those points, you know, are pertinent. But we let the Soviets know that although we want to have peace with them, we're willing to compete peacefully, we're not afraid of them, our military strength will be maintained, their intrusion into Africa is both unnecessary, unwarranted, and tends to convince the American people that the Soviets are not sincere in their commitment to detente and their search for peace.


Q. Mr. President, your proposals for controlling the illegal immigration have been criticized by Latino groups on several points. One of the main criticisms, however, is that the immigration package is a series of palliatives which will do little to attack the fundamental causes of that illegal immigration, that is, underdevelopment in these so-called sending countries, particularly in Latin America. Now, the question is, why does your immigration package say so little about economic development in Mexico and the rest of Latin America? And as a followup to that, what specifically will you be doing in the future to correct the apparent or at least perceived shortcomings?

THE PRESIDENT. To answer your question very briefly, the Judiciary Committees, which are responsible for legislation concerning undocumented workers, are not charged with economic development in a foreign country. The legislation specifically is not related to economic development, so you can't put it in the same legislative proposal. But we are working very hard with the Mexicans—for instance, myself with Lopez Portillo; we've been together a couple of times. My wife has been down there to spend time with Lopez Portillo. Secretary Vance has just recently returned; Mike Blumenthal has just come back from Mexico City.

We've had delegations formed, as a result of my meetings with Lopez Portillo around this table, representing our Department of Commerce, our Treasury Department, Agriculture Department, State Department, to work with his Ministers on enhancing the economic prospects in Mexico for the future. We've been very supportive of Mexico, in addition, in their need for developing products to export. Petroleum products is a major example; agricultural products is another.

We've tried to reduce the obstacles at the borders for the free trade that ought to exist between our countries that would help economically. We've also tried to help Mexico qualify for and we've-been supportive of Mexico's needs for longrange loans from the World Bank and the Regional Banks, the IMF.

So, we're very much aware that the permanent solution, or at least partial solution to the undocumented workers' problem is better economic conditions in Mexico. The reason that we haven't combined that facet in the undocumented workers legislation is that that goes to the Judiciary Committee, which has no responsibility for economic development.


Q. Mr. President, appealing to the principle of open policy in your administration, what options do we have to stop this outrageous escalation of Communist troops in Africa? Also, what options do we have to terminate this type of situation emanating from Communist Cuba?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as you know, I have let it be clear that we want better relationships with Cuba. But the unnecessary and excessive use of military force by Castro all over the African continent, to some degree, lately, in the Middle East, like in South Yemen, has indicated to me that he has not abandoned the interest that Cuba has to subvert other (government) 1 people through military means.

1 Printed in the transcript.

As you know, he was unsuccessful in doing so in South America, although he made a strong effort there and in Central America. And now I think he's moved his emphasis to Africa.

There is no possibility that we would see any substantial, further improvement in our relationship with Cuba as long as he's committed to this military intrusion policy in the internal affairs of African people.

There's no doubt in my mind that Cuba is used by the Soviet Union as surrogates in several places in Africa. Castro, instead of reducing troop placements in Africa, has grossly increased the number of troops in several countries in Africa recently. Our information, which I think is accurate, is that in many instances he offers additional troops to countries that refuse them.

So, we have no diplomatic relations with Cuba, as you know, we have trade offices only. And we have let—I don't communicate directly with Castro—but we have let him know through people who go from here to Cuba and through other means about our strong opposition to his policy.

My information, also, is that the Cuban troop losses in Africa have recently been quite high. And I'm not sure that the Cuban people know how severe the loss of life is among Cuban troops that are sent to Angola, nor the ones sent to Ethiopia. But we try to influence Castro to be more peaceful in his foreign policy, to refrain from sending Cuban troops enthusiastically everywhere he can in Africa, not only through our public statements but also through nonaligned leaders and developing countries.

I think the Cuban leaders would like to have the image of being a nonaligned country, but that's obviously an absolutely ridiculous claim, because there is no other country that acts in harmony with and under the domination of the Soviets any more than the Cubans do. They're completely aligned with the Soviets, and where most of the nonaligned countries seek peace and peaceful settlements of disputes, the Cubans are at the forefront of the cutting edge of providing military forces in areas of Africa, for instance, wherever they possibly can find an opening.

So, I think in every one of these respects, Castro is acting contrary to peaceful settlements of disputes that are inevitable in Africa. And that is an obstacle to any further progress between us and Cuba as far as peace is concerned.


Q. Mr. President, the unemployment rate in the United States has declined an extent, to 6 percent, and yet in the Spanish-speaking community, the Hispanic community, this has risen to 10 percent. What do you propose specifically to remedy this situation?

THE PRESIDENT. My information is a little bit different from yours. You said "has risen to 10 percent." My information is that in the last 16 months, the unemployment rate among Spanish-speaking Americans has actually dropped. It is still 10 percent, approximately. But I think it has come down since I've been in office. That is a continuing problem for us. When I talk about inflation control, I'm obviously not abandoning our permanent commitment to getting the unemployment rate down.

Among, probably, teenage Spanish speaking Americans, it would probably be 30, 35, 40 percent. One of the results of a general lowering of unemployment rate in the country is that we can focus the existing Federal programs more and more accurately on those who are more difficult to employ or who have the hardest time getting a job.

As you know, minority citizens, young people are the last ones hired and the first ones fired. And when we have a Government program, either in the CETA programs or, say, a local works program, and a large number of all kinds of Americans are unemployed and the competition is there, quite often the minority citizen doesn't get a good chance to get a job.

However, if the unemployment rate in general is reduced, then we can focus those Government-supported programs much more accurately upon the minority citizens and young people. So, I think that this is a good prospect now for there to be a more rapid decrease in the unemployment rate among those for whom you are concerned. And the last month's figures showed a substantial improvement in the unemployment rate among Spanish-speaking citizens, black citizens, and young people, in particular.


Q. Mr. President, agricultural labor leaders in agriculture are fearful that this year you're going to allow a tremendous increase in temporary worker permits in the agricultural fields this .summer, such as you did last year in Texas. And you are under tremendous pressure from growers to waive some of the requirements. What is your feeling on that? Are you going to allow temporary worker permits, either under the H-2 or bracero program or what have you?

THE PRESIDENT. We made it clear when we sent up the legislation to Congress that we don't intend to expand the H-2 program or to put in any sort of bracero program and so forth.

Those permits would be handled under existing law, basically the same policy that we have followed, administered by the Secretary of Labor. If a dispute comes up about a particular decision, as far as the legality of it is concerned, as has been the case in the past, the Secretary of Labor would turn to the Attorney General for advice. But we have no plans to expand that program.


Q. Mr. President, I happened to notice this morning that the news summary that you receive every morning did not contain any items from the Hispanic media. We asked the question as to why that was, and we were told there apparently wasn't a staffer in the White House who could cull the information from the Hispanic media. Would you feel inclined to include items from the Hispanic media in the future in the White House News Summary?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I would.

Q. I think that would be important.

THE PRESIDENT. On occasion, by the way, there are excerpts from the Spanish media. I would say in an average day, we get excerpts from 40—I'm just guessing—40 sources. You could take today's little summary as a typical one. We don't use the same newspapers every day; we don't use the same editorial sources every day.

We do use all three networks and summarize their evening news program, and we do use the lead stories from AP and UPI. That's the only thing that's included every day.

The rest of the time they come from a very wide range of sources, sometimes little tiny newspapers, sometimes Spanish-Hispanic-American newspapers, sometimes black-owned newspapers. But I think we could use more information from the Spanish-speaking community.


Q. Mr. President, are you now favorably disposed or could you be favorably disposed to appointing a Presidential assistant with a staff to look after Latino concerns in this country?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I've got Joe Aragon here who's a top assistant in the White House, who is a very fine spokesman, but I'm not inclined to set up a special office in addition to what I already have, no.

Q. He says that only 5 percent of his time is directly related to Latino concerns, and Latinos have no place else to go except to Joe.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I wouldn't say that. I don't know if you all have a list of all the people in the Federal Government who are concerned with Latin American problems, but I don't have any administrators on the White House staff, zero.

These administrative decisions are made within the Immigration Service, among the Assistant Secretaries of Commerce and Labor and the Community Services Administration and HEW. Many of those people are Spanish-speaking. But I don't intend to set up an administrative office in the White House for any particular group.

Q. Why is it then that in recent-several weeks ago in the press, it was reported that Mayor Hatcher was going to come on staff to take care of black concerns?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, that's—you know I'm not responsible for everything that's reported in the press. [Laughter]

Q. That's not true?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I wouldn't bring anybody on board to take care of a particular constituency group. You know, if someone does come to work for me like Joe Aragon, who happens to speak Spanish, or Bunny Mitchell, who happens to be black, you know, if I felt they could only deal with Spanish-speaking people or black people, it would just be contrary to what I want.

I don't think that we ought to isolate a certain constituency group and have them able to go, or constrained to go, to a particular person in the White House. I think if any Spanish-speaking person in the country has a problem, you know, with the Labor Department or HEW or HUD, they ought to be free to go and ought to be encouraged to go directly to the Cabinet members involved.

I don't like to run my Governor's office in Georgia, or the White House here with administrative responsibilities in the White House. And I don't like to segment my staff to be responsible for old people or farmers or labor or business or women or blacks or Spanish-speaking people. I'd have such a fragmented administrative mechanism here that I couldn't deal with it. I'd just rather not do that.

I do like to have people who are sensitive, especially to the problems that face those constituency groups. And I think that Joe Aragon, although he does have a broad range of responsibilities and also a broad range of knowledge—he's respected by the Cabinet members—he does have a special sensitivity concerning the unique problems and needs of Spanish-speaking Americans.

But I would not want to have an entity in the White House that was confined to a responsibility just for Spanish-speaking people.


Q. Mr. President, when you went to Miami before the election, you went to our office of Replica Magazine. It's a weekly magazine. We discussed there about Cuba and human rights. Now Castro's in Angola, and human rights in Cuba are the same as before. What do you think about that?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, again, you know, our policy on human rights is a worldwide problem. Castro has thousands of political prisoners still in jail. I don't think he denys it.

There's some argument about exactly how many thousands are in jail. Some of those people have been in 'Cuban prisons for almost 20 years, and a lot of them had a sentence when originally incarcerated that was 20 years. Our hope is at least that he will release those political prisoners when their sentence expires.

We have very little, if any influence on what Castro does concerning basic human rights. Nothing would please me more than to see Castro announce today that he was going to withdraw his troops from Angola, from Mozambique, from South Yemen, from Ethiopia, that he was going to refrain from injecting Cuban troops into Rhodesia in the future, or that he was going to quit offering Cuban troops to the leaders among the frontline Presidents, that he was going to release political prisoners.

You know, nothing would please me more than for him to do that. But I can't tell you that we have any hopes that this will be the case.

As I said earlier, I don't think that our relationships with Cuba are going to improve any further unless he shows in tangible form that he's committed both to peace and to the enhancement of human rights.

I'll answer just one more question.


Q. Mr. President, if the proposed alien adjustment and employment act becomes law, do you feel that such a massive program could be accomplished within a reasonable period .of time? And would a special department or agency be needed to handle this particular undertaking?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I think it could be administered. I can't guarantee the complete success of it or any other effort of this kind when so many different kinds of human beings are involved.

We really want to feel our way into this program carefully. One of the reasons for the special status of those who are presently in our country illegally and who have been here for quite a while is just to understand how many of them there are and what the size .of the problem is, so that we can deal with them both fairly and humanely.

Another thing to which we are totally committed is to make sure that any sort of new program of this kind does not work any hardship or deprivation of civil rights against those who are American citizens, who are here legally, and who happen to be Spanish-speaking.

This is a crucial issue for us, and I do think that the program would be adequate. I do think we can administer it well. It would be administered very cautiously, and if there was a choice between a rapid implementation on the one hand and the protection of the civil rights .or human rights of all Spanish-speaking Americans on the other hand, I would be overly cautious in order to protect the civil rights of those people who happen to speak Spanish.

MR. WURFEL. Thank you, Mr. President.


THE PRESIDENT. I'm looking forward this afternoon to getting my wife back. She's been down in Costa Rica for the inauguration of a new president, and she was in Guatemala this morning. I think that one of the things that I'd like to say in closing is this: We've tried to change our Latin American policy in a beneficial way. We've done it by honoring people who speak Spanish, just by a deep feeling that my wife and I have that they ought to be identified as equals.

We don't look down upon them. We're not doing them any favors. When we have a good relationship with Mexico or a good relationship with Panama or a good relationship with Costa Rica or other countries, it's a favor to Americans, to North Americans, and to the people who live in this country. And some of the things we've done have been very difficult politically.

I hope that, for instance, the ratification of the Panama Canal treaties will open up a new era of mutual trust and friendship and equality between ourselves and all the people in the Latin American countries.

I also have long had an interest in Latin America, because my wife and I just happen to have studied Spanish when we were very young. Rosalynn goes to Spanish class now 9 hours a week, and she does a lot of reading and a lot of studying at night. Each evening we read Spanish together. One night she reads; I read the next night. And so I think we have a special feeling toward our friends in Latin America. I believe that the people there reciprocate; they know that we are interested in improving relations.

And the other thing that we've tried to do is not to treat all of the people who live south of here as being the same. We deal with each country individually and respect their uniqueness and try to search out ways to let them respect us and to build up a respect for them in the minds and hearts of American people. This applies even to Cuba, where we do have some serious problems.

And we are very eager to see our relationships with the other nations in this hemisphere continue to improve. My subjective feeling is that they are improving. And there's just an outpouring of friendship expressed to me when I go to a country in Central and South America, or Caribbean—the same thing applies to my wife when she goes—quite different from what it has been in years gone by, and I want to continue it.

I'm extremely proud of the Latin heritage that's been brought to our own country. It's a benefit to American people. And our emphases on bilingual education comes from the heart. And I hope that that particular heritage or background can be preserved, because we can benefit a great deal from the extremely stable family configuration that exists among Latin American people—better by far on the average than what exists among Anglo-American families, perhaps—and the deep feelings of religious commitment are very admirable. The commitment to the work ethic is admirable.

And I think it's good for our country to have this Latin heritage become a part of our consciousness and to be recognized. We're trying to overcome discriminations that have existed in the past. I've spoken out very strongly against any police brutality, for instance, against Mexican American citizens in Texas and other places.

We've had the same thing exist in my part of the country against blacks, in years gone by. The Attorney General has interceded directly in some of those cases, to point out that there are inequities, there are mistreatments, exhibited even among official people. So, I look on your advice to me as being very valuable. And I hope when there are instances of this kind of abuse or when there are ways that I can move as President to make the lives of Spanish-speaking people more pleasant and more useful and more constructive in our country, that you all will let me know.

And I want every agency in the Federal Government to mirror the feelings that I've just described. It's a very important thing for us, for me and Rosalynn. It's a very important thing for my whole administration. And I'm eager to root out any sort of remnants of discrimination or improper separation from the rest of the citizens of our country from the very valuable Spanish-speaking citizens that are so dear to us.

Note: The interview began at 1:07 p.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House. Walter W. Wurfel is Deputy Press Secretary.

The transcript of the interview was released on May 13.

Jimmy Carter, Interview With the President Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Representatives of the Hispanic Media. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/244652

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