Jimmy Carter photo

Mexico City, Mexico Remarks Before the Mexican Congress.

February 16, 1979

Mr. President and distinguished Members of the Congress of Mexico:

As President of the fourth largest Spanish-speaking nation, I speak to you—as best I can—in the language of Mexico, the largest Spanish-speaking nation on Earth.

Nearly a decade ago the great Mexican poet Octavio Paz wrote these words about the United States, and I quote:

"For more than a century that country has appeared to our eyes as a gigantic but scarcely human reality. Smiling or angry, its hand clenched or open, the United States neither sees nor hears us, but keeps striding on, and as it does so, enters our land and crushes us. It is impossible to hold back a giant. It is possible, though far from easy, to make him listen to others. If he listens, this opens the possibility of coexistence."

My friends, I have come to Mexico to listen.

This is a time to appreciate the mutual benefits of our historical friendship as neighbors. But it is also a time of exciting changes within our two countries and in our relationship with each other.

I have come here better to comprehend these changes and to gain a greater understanding of your views.

In the last 3 days, I have spent many hours with your President, Jose Lopez Portillo. Together, we are working to shape a lasting relationship that is based on balance and equality, based on mutual respect for sovereignty and independence, and a mutual recognition of our shared destinies.

The relations between our two countries are extremely complex. To quote Octavio Paz once more: "What separates us is the very thing that unites us. We are two distinct versions of Western civilization."

Yet it is undeniable that our cultures and our civilizations are more and more related. After all, I am speaking to you in the language not only of Mexico but of 20 million of my fellow citizens in the United States of America.

This mutual interest we feel in our respective music, art, drama, and sports, and in the looks and sounds of our own landscape and our cities as well.

But it goes deeper than that. If the cultural reality of the present is a product of the past, it is also a map of the future. And on that map, the paths to progress for both our peoples increasingly converge. I strongly believe that the intermingling of our two cultures should be welcomed, for it will be a source of strength and vitality for both peoples.

For all the cherished differences between the customs and histories of our two countries, we are alike in another very important way: We are both pluralistic societies.

Mexico is the product of many cultural influences—influences which have shaped a distinctive whole society, while retaining, at the same time, much of its original character. The same can be said of the United States. It is natural for us to learn, and adopt from one another, ideas.

From our perspective, the 2,000-year history of Mexican civilization is impressive, even awesome. When the first English settlers came to the United States, the University of Mexico and Spanish settlements near my present home State were already 100 years old.

Mexico has produced a great and unique culture—one that today finds beautiful expression in art, literature, music, dance, and in architecture of extraordinary vitality.

We respect your culture, which enriches our own. But we also respect Mexico as a great and growing modern nation in constant growth.

President Lopez Portillo has adopted many important steps to strengthen political participation, and he has set forth goals of wider economic participation and social justice as well. We admire and applaud these actions.

I have tried to develop a better approach to Latin America and the Caribbean also-one that emphasizes the uniqueness of each country. The United States views Latin American countries not just as regional actors but as important leaders in a wider system of global cooperation. This commitment is more than just words.

During my first year in office, the United States signed a new treaty with Panama on the Panama Canal, which recognizes the national pride and legitimate rights between people of Panama, and at the same time, it is consistent with the ideals and best interests of the people of the United States.

We particularly value the role that Mexico plays in international affairs in a world that is more and more varied and less and less dominated by super powers or by ideological blocs.

The influence and leadership of Mexico have been increased. You are a recognized force for international economic justice, for the principle of national sovereignty and nonintervention, for arms control and peace.

It has been said that war is too important to be left to the generals. It is equally true that peace is too important to be left solely to the super powers. Mexico's policy affirms that every country has a stake in control of nuclear arms. Through the Treaty of Tlatelolco, you have taken a unique and important initiative in inspiring Latin America to be permanently free of nuclear weapons.

In a world that can be traversed in an hour by satellite, and in an instant by radio, every country is, in a certain sense, the neighbor of every other country. Yet the closeness of Mexico and the United States is no abstraction. We share an open border more than 3,000 kilometers long. We are neighbors in every sense of the word—and, as President Lopez Portillo said in his speech to our Congress 2 years ago, "We shall go on being neighbors as long as the Earth circles the Sun."

Our friendship has at times been marred by mistakes, and even by abuses of power. Our perceptions of each other have sometimes been distorted. But we have made progress, and I believe that in the coming years, we will make greater progress toward fuller cooperation, understanding, and mutual respect.

This will be so if the relations between us are the product of an honest dialog such as President Lopez Portillo and I have had during the last few days.

In the 2 years since President Lopez Portillo became the first head of state to visit me at the White House, we have recorded many accomplishments together. We have signed a civil aviation agreement that will bring the largest expansion of air service between two countries in a full generation. We have signed and ratified treaties on prisoner exchange, on maritime boundaries, and on fisheries, and on extradition.

We have worked together effectively to combat the heroin trade—and we know that the task is far from complete. We have cooperated and sought each other's counsel on international issues. We have strengthened the continuing consultative links between our two governments.

Yesterday we signed agreements to ex[)and scientific cooperation in the areas of housing and in arid crop development. These accomplishments are important, not only for themselves but because they demonstrate our willingness and our ability to work together.

Difficult problems remain—especially in the areas of trade, energy, and migration. Each of these issues defies easy solution. Now and for years to come, each will require our best efforts to narrow our differences and find common ground.

As a result of the productive consultations of this visit, working groups will continue to study the problem. But they will make frequent reports to President Lopez Portillo and to me. We have agreed to meet soon, preferably this summer, to assess progress and to resolve remaining problems.

This is important, and I want to repeat it in my language: [In English] Because of the great progress that has been made in this visit, we have assigned to working groups matters of negotiation and consultation. These groups will make frequent reports to President Lopez Portillo and to me, and your President and mine [1] have agreed to meet very early again to assess the progress that has been made, and to add our personal influence in resolving remaining problems. Our hope and our expectation is that President Lopez Portillo and I will meet again as early as this summer.

[In Spanish] Trade between our two countries, which already reaches an annual level of about $10 billion, is certain to grow even more rapidly in the future. We must work together as neighbors and as associates within the system of international trade in order to reduce the barriers to trade between our countries and to manage presently our commercial relations effectively.

For many reasons—some of them historical—the issue of energy has aroused strong emotion. You are justifiably proud of the great natural resources of Mexico. That is why I want to repeat today what I have emphasized in talking to the people of my own country: We understand clearly that the Mexican oil resources are the national patrimony of the Mexican people, to be developed and used and sold as Mexico sees fit.

We respect the decision that Mexico will produce at a rate suited to its development objectives. As a good customer, we are prepared to pay a fair and just price for the gas and oil that you may wish to sell.

Mexico's rapidly growing economic strength will help to provide many thousands of new jobs, a long-term answer to the difficult problem of unlawful migration.

As President, I am responsible for upholding the laws of my country, including its immigration laws. I will meet that responsibility as fairly and as humanely as I can. My consultations held here will help me to make the right decisions. I am deeply and personally determined to protect the basic human rights of all people within the borders of my country whether or not they are citizens of the United States.

You can be sure that I will meet that commitment. My country welcomes the growing strength of its great southern neighbor. We will not always agree, just as we do not always agree with other close friends and allies. But we are convinced that our own strength is enhanced by having strong and independent friends.

Our common problems will not be resolved without patient work over many years. But in our conversations, President Lopez Portillo and I have begun to define a common vision of a better future.

It will be a future in which more trade flows freely between our countries, greater legal migration in both directions, greater cooperation between our economists, planners, and scientists, and a future in which we shall preserve and enrich the cultures of both our countries as our peoples become increasingly bilingual.

Let us set the basis for our relations upon the words of one of the greatest figures in the history of human liberty, Benito Juarez. These words are emblazoned above, on the walls of this chamber:

"Among its individuals, as among its nations, the respect of the rights of others is peace."

These words are so important that I wish to repeat them in my own language:

[In English] "Between individuals, as between nations, respect for the rights of others is peace."

[In Spanish] Thank you all very much.

Note: The President spoke at 10:25 a.m. in the Chamber of Deputies of the Congress. He spoke in Spanish, except where noted above, and the translation follows the White House press release.

Earlier in the day, President Carter met at Los Pinos with President Lopez Portillo.

Following his address, the President left the Chamber of Deputies for departure ceremonies at Licenciado Benito Juarez International Airport.

Jimmy Carter, Mexico City, Mexico Remarks Before the Mexican Congress. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/248763

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