Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at a Cuban Independence Day Celebration in Miami, Florida

May 20, 1983

Thank you. Thank you all very much. Senator Hawkins, Members of the Congress, Jorge Mas, Carlos Salman, ladies and gentlemen:

It's a great pleasure for me to be with a group of Americans who have demonstrated how much can be accomplished when people are free. Many of you arrived in this country with little more than the shirts on your backs and a desire to improve your well-being and that of your family. You came with a willingness to work and, yes, a consuming passion for liberty. There's a name for this kind of spirit. It's called the American spirit, and there's no limit to what it can do.

But let me interrupt myself here and say something about that American spirit. We could also say it's a Western Hemisphere spirit, because one of the great, unique things about this Western Hemisphere is that in all of our countries—yours, from the islands of the Caribbean to South, to Central America, and to North America, from the South Pole to the North Pole, with all of our countries, we can cross the boundary line into another country, and we're still surrounded by Americans, because we are all Americans here in the Western Hemisphere.

Examples of this spirit abound. Jorge Mas, chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation, came here 20 years ago, worked as a milkman to support himself. Today he owns a construction company that provides hundreds of people with meaningful employment. And when he isn't running his country—or company, he's immersed in activities like this one, trying to protect the freedom that has been so important in his life. Jorge Mas, thank you for all that you've done and all you're doing.

But Jorge's success story is no isolated example. There are so many. You know them—people like Armando Codina who came here alone as a child, his parents unable to leave Cuba, so he was sent to an orphanage and then to a foster home. It took courage for this little' boy to begin his new life. But now, at 35, he has a string of business accomplishments of which any individual many years his senior would be proud.

The world renowned ballet dancer, Fernando Bujones, is a Cuban American.

In my administration, we have Jose Manuel Casanova. He is the United States Executive Director of the Inter-American Development Bank.

And I have an announcement to make today that concerns another outstanding Cuban American, Dr. Jose Sorzano. He is currently our Representative on the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. He's a distinguished scholar, specializing in political philosophy, history, and Latin America. And I want you to know—to be the first to know—that I intend to nominate Dr. Sorzano to be one of our nation's highest diplomats, to the post of Deputy U.S. Representative to the United Nations.

One of the TV cameramen with us today is Eduardo Suarez. He came to America just a few short years ago and recently won a Florida Emmy for his excellence as a television news photographer. Eduardo, congratulations.

The list goes on and on. People from every walk of life, of every race and family background, have made their mark in just about every corner of American society. A few months ago, I was honored to welcome to the White House a famous runner, Alberto Salazar. I didn't know what to say. He gave me a pair of running shoes— [laughter] —but I'm not sure what kind of a race he wanted me to run in. [Laughter]

Clearly, this country in America, the United States, has been good for you. But you have also been good for all of America and for the United States and for Miami. And I add, and for Miami. Twenty-five years ago, there were those who thought Miami had reached its peak and was on the way down. The economy seemed stagnant. There was little hope in sight. Today, Miami is a vibrant international center, a gateway to Latin America.

The stark contrast between your life and that of the neighbors and loved ones that you left behind in Cuba stands as evidence to the relationship between freedom and prosperity.

About 10 million people still live in Cuba, as compared to about I million Cuban Americans—people with the same traditions and cultural heritage, yet the Cubans in the United States, with only one-tenth the number, produce almost two times the wealth of those they left behind. So, don't let anyone fool you: What's happening in Cuba is not a failure of the Cuban people; it's a failure of Fidel Castro and of communism.

The Soviet Union with all its military might, with its massive subsidy of the Cuban economy, can't make the system produce anything but repression and terror.

It reminds me of the story—I happen to collect stories that the Soviet people are telling each other, the Russian people. It indicates their cynicism with their own system. This is a story of a. commissar who visited one of their collective farms, and he stopped the first farmer, workman that he met, and he asked about life on the farm. And the man said, "It's wonderful. I've never heard anyone complain about anything since I've been here." And the commissar then said, "Well, what about the crops? .... Oh," he said, "the crops are wonderful." "What about the potatoes? .... Oh, sir," he said, "the potatoes," he said, "there are so many that if we put them in one pile they would touch the foot of God." And the commissar said, "Just a minute. In the Soviet Union there is no God." And the farmer said, "Well, there are no potatoes either." [Laughter]

Cuban Americans understand perhaps better than many of their fellow citizens that freedom is not just the heritage of the people of the United States. It is the birthright of the people of this hemisphere. We in the Americas are descended from hearty souls—pioneers, men and women with the courage to leave the familiar and start fresh in this, the New World. We are, by and large, people who share the same fundamental values of God, family, work, freedom, democracy, and justice. Perhaps the greatest tie between us can be seen in the incredible number of cathedrals and churches found throughout the hemisphere. Our forefathers took the worship of God seriously.

Our struggles for independence and the fervor for liberty unleashed by these noble endeavors bind the people of the New World together. In the annals of human freedom, names like Bolivar and Marti rank equally with Jefferson and Washington. These were individuals of courage and dignity, and they left for us a legacy, a treasure beyond all imagination.

But today, a new colonialism threatens the Americas. Insurgents, armed and directed by a faraway power, seek to impose a philosophy that is alien to everything which we believe and goes against our birthright. It's a philosophy that holds truth and liberty in contempt and is a self-declared enemy of the worship of God. Wherever put into practice, it has brought repression and human deprivation. There is no clearer example of this than Cuba.

The people of Cuba have seen their strong independent labor movement-which existed before 1959—destroyed by a regime that shouts slogans about its concern for the workers; the suppression of the church, including the right of the church to broadcast and print God's word. It is a new fascist regime, where freedom of speech and press of every opposition group has been stamped into the ground with ideological zeal. And it doesn't stop there. Young Cubans are pressed into the military and sent to faraway lands, where hundreds have been killed, to do the bidding of a foreign government, defiling their hands with the blood of others, not serving their own interests, but propping up leaders who have no popular support.

But the people of Central America, with our support, have chosen a different course—freedom, pluralism, and free economic development. They, and we, are committed to this course and will not tolerate Mr. Castro's efforts to prevent it. They, and we, want Central America for Central Americans, and that's the way it's going to be.

The declining Castro economy continues to make a grotesque joke out of the ideological claims that Marxism is for the people. Nearly a quarter of a century after the Cuban revolution, the Cuban people continue to face shortages and rationing of basic necessities. Once one of the most prosperous countries in all of Latin America, it is rapidly becoming the most economically backward in the region, thanks to the Communist system.

You know, they say there are only two places where communism works: in heaven, where they don't need it— [laughter] —and in hell, where they've already got it. [Laughter]

And now, there is strong evidence that Castro officials are involved in the drug trade, peddling drugs like criminals, profiting on the misery of the addicted. I would like to take this opportunity to call on the Castro regime for an accounting. Is this drug peddling simply the act of renegade officials?, or is it officially sanctioned by the present Government of Cuba? The world deserves an answer.

On this day, we celebrate Cuban independence, something special for the people of the United States as well as Cuba. Eighty-five years ago, we joined together and fought side by side, shedding our blood to free Cuba from the yoke of colonialism. Sadly, we must acknowledge that Cuba is no longer independent. But let me assure you: We will not let this same fate befall others in the hemisphere. We will not permit the Soviets and their henchmen in Havana to deprive others of their freedom. We will not allow them to do that to others. And some day Cuba, itself, will be free.

The United States stands at a crossroads. We can no longer ignore this hemisphere and simply hope for the best. Jose Marti, the hero of Cuban independence, a man who spent so many years of his life with us in the United States, said it well: "It is not enough to come to the defense of freedom with epic and intermittent efforts when it is threatened at moments that appear critical. Every moment is critical for the preservation of freedom."

Now is the time to act reasonably and decisively to avert a crisis and prevent other people from suffering the same fate as your brothers and sisters in Cuba. Ironically, our biggest obstacle is not foreign threats, but a lack of confidence and understanding. There are far too many trying to find excuses to do nothing. If we are immobilized by fear or apathy by those who suggest that because our friends are imperfect, we shouldn't help them, if those trying to throw roadblocks in our path succeed and interpose themselves at a time when a crisis could still be averted, the American people will know who is responsible and judge them accordingly.

But as I told the Congress a few weeks ago, we've still got time, and there is much that can be done. The Congress can, for example, enact those trade and tax provisions of the Caribbean Basin Initiative that will put the power of free enterprise to work in the Caribbean. The Congress rightly believes that we must not totally focus our efforts on building the military capabilities of our friends. I agree. That's why 75 percent of what we've asked for is economic, not military aid.

But we must realize that our friends cannot be expected to stand unarmed against insurgents who've been armed to the teeth by the Soviet-Cuban-Nicaraguan axis. Any excuse for not providing our friends the weapons they need to defend themselves is a prescription for disaster. And again, those who advocate ignoring the legitimate defense needs of those under attack will be held accountable if our national security is put in jeopardy.

Teddy Roosevelt is known to have said, "Speak softly and carry a big stick." Well, there are plenty of soft speakers around, but that's where the similarity ends. [Laughter]

Let there be no mistake. What happens in Latin America and the Caribbean will not only affect our nation but also will shape America's image throughout the world. If we cannot act decisively so close to home, who will believe us anywhere? Knowing this, I recently nominated a special envoy, a strong leader, an individual eminently qualified to represent us in this vital region and to work closely with the Congress to ensure the fullest possible bipartisan cooperation. He's a man in whom I have the highest confidence and respect, a man you know well, former Senator Richard Stone.

When Senator Stone is confirmed, he will be directly involved with those seeking regional solutions to the problems in Central America. We are fully supportive of good faith efforts like the so-called Contadora Group, seeking to calm tensions and avert conflict. We hope that they'll be able to make progress, and we welcome the participation of all nations in the Americas who have a vital stake in Central America.

There is, of course, one top priority item on the agenda I've yet to mention. The Cuban people, as is the case in most Communist dictatorships, have been cut off from information. Many of the folks who've come to America in recent years, for example, didn't even know that Cuba had tens of thousands of troops in Africa, much less know about the casualties they've suffered. The greatest threats to dictators like Fidel Castro is the truth. And that's why I'm urging the Congress to approve legislation for the establishment of Radio Marti.

And let me state one thing for the record. There have been certain threats made about jamming the frequency of our domestic radio stations should we broadcast to Cuba. Such threats are evidence of the frightened and tyrannical nature of Castro's regime. Well, I can guarantee you today, we will never permit such a government to intimidate us from speaking the truth.

Cuban Americans play a unique role in the preservation of our freedom. Your Hispanic heritage enables you to better relate our good will to our friends in neighboring countries to the south. But you also have a responsibility here at home. I think one of our most dangerous problems in America is that many of our own people take our blessed liberty for granted.

In 1980 a Cuban scholar named Heberto Padilla came to the United States after spending 20 years under Castro. He marveled at what he saw, something that he hadn't even noticed during his visit here 20 years ago. When visiting the campuses of our major universities, he said, "I am struck by something that will be obvious to all Americans: No one, government official or colleague, has asked me what I was going to say in the seminars and courses that I'm going to give this fall. This is new for me. Simple, but true. It is difficult to ask anyone born into freedom to realize exactly what she or he possesses."

Well, Mr. Padilla went on to explain that freedom is invisible. It is the absence of the government censor, the absence of the secret police, the absence of an agent of repression.

You know, I couldn't help but think when those beautiful young people were here singing our two national anthems, so many—and so many of you—only know about the Cuba that some of us know about, the free Cuba, from hearing us talk about it. And you have a great responsibility to make sure that your sons and daughters, growing up, know of that other Cuba and share in your hopes and dreams. And we all have a responsibility to see that our young people in America who have come along at a later time know about a Cuba that was free.

Perhaps the best gift that you can give to your fellow citizens—and you've already contributed so much to our well-being—is a better understanding of that which they cannot see—the human freedom that surrounds them. Perhaps you can help them understand something that you know instinctively—the awesome responsibility that we have as Americans. For if we fail, there will be no place for free men to seek refuge. I'm counting on you to help me explain the threats in Central America, the threats you recognize so clearly.

Each generation of Americans bears this burden, and we're grateful to have you with us, sharing this heavy weight upon your shoulders. Teddy Roosevelt, a man who fought alongside your forefathers for Cuban independence, said, "We, here in America, hold in our hands the hope of the world, the fate of the coming years; and shame and disgrace will be ours if in our eyes the light of high resolve is dimmed, if we trail in the dust the golden hopes of men."

Today, let us pledge ourselves to meet this sacred responsibility. And let us pledge ourselves to the freedom of the noble, long-suffering Cuban people. Viva Cuba Libre. Cuba, si; Castro, no.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for having me here with you today, and vaya con Dios.

Note: The President spoke at 1:35 p.m. at the Dade County Auditorium following remarks and an introduction by Senator Paula Hawkins.

Prior to his remarks, the President met at the auditorium with leaders of the Cuban American National Foundation, an independent, nonprofit organization that hosted the celebration in recognition of Cuba's independence from Spain on May 20, 1902. The President then held a separate meeting at the auditorium with Florida Hispanic Republican leaders.
Following the conclusion of his remarks at the celebration, the President returned to Washington, D.C.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at a Cuban Independence Day Celebration in Miami, Florida Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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