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Remarks in an Interview With Representatives of Excelsior of Mexico, Together With Written Responses to Questions

August 14, 1986

Mexico-U.S. Relations

Q. I would like to ask you, sir, to what would you attribute the late interest which has been expressed by Members of the Senate as well as high officials of your government regarding the fact of Mexico's Government?

The President. Well, maybe it has come about because of some of the things—such as the closer relationship now with regard to drugs and so forth. But it was something that I had determined we needed before I became President—that here we are, three neighbors here in North America—Canada, the United States, and Mexico—from north to south, and that I just thought that there should be a closer relationship between these three. And so, President De la Madrid and I have met every year. In fact, our first meeting was when he was just the President-elect, before he had even taken office. And we have kept that relationship going, and I think it is closer and better. And I know right now, on the problem of drugs that concerns us both, the Attorney General of Mexico and our Attorney General are working very closely together.

Q. Mr. Reagan, what would be the most important result of the conversations that you held with President De la Madrid yesterday?

The President. Well, again, as I say, we keep in touch, and you know I've always believed that you only get in trouble when you're talking about each other instead of to each other. And we discussed a number of things: our concerns in Central America with regard to the Nicaragua situation; again, the drug policy, and strengthened again our resolve to work together resolving that; and also the economic problems that are besetting Mexico and how we could possibly cooperate and work and help them through this particular period.


Q. Did you reach some agreement on the problem of Nicaragua?

The President. Yes, I think we did. Mainly, I think what was necessary was—it was an opportunity for me to reassure him as to what our intentions were and what it was we were trying to bring about there.

Q. You are still wanting to push against Managua because it is a dictatorship and-in respect with this $100 million [pending legislation to provide assistance to the Nicaraguan democratic resistance]—to reach what?

The President. Well, since we have met nine times with the leaders of the Sandinista government in an attempt to get them to agree to sit down and negotiate with the others who are in the revolution against Somoza and who are now the freedom fighters, because the Sandinistas seized power and violated the pledge that they had all made to the Organization of American States, a pledge that their goal, a revolutionary goal, was democracy, free speech, freedom of press, free labor unions—all of the things associated with democracy. When the Sandinistas took over, they ousted their former allies, and they named it a totalitarian government.

And what our attempt has always been in these nine meetings with them is to persuade them to sit down and negotiate the democratization of Nicaragua, to return to those principles that they had once pledged. And in every instance the freedom fighters had agreed with us they would lay down their arms to come to the table and have a peaceful political solution to the problem. And nine times there was failure on the part of the Nicaraguans, the Sandinista government. They refused. We believe that it's going to take the pressure of the freedom fighters. And what we really think would be the best goal is if they have the strength to exert leverage on the Sandinista government, then we could still have a peaceful political settlement.

And the alternative would have to be, then, if Nicaragua still won't see the light-or the Sandinista government won't, then the only alternative is for the freedom fighters to have their way and take over.

Q. So, you think this $100 million are enough to pressure him—them? Excuse me.

The President. Well, it depends on how long it might take for a resolution to this problem. But I think, right now, it can go much further than most people think it will, because, you know, the needs of fighters or soldiers using guerrilla tactics are much less than those of a more formal military structure. As a matter of fact, the rule of thumb in such a relationship is that normally a government and its forces have to outnumber the guerrillas 10 to 1 in order to succeed.

Q. Do you think—just the last one-do you think there's any danger in Mexico for the democracy, because it's the way to come to the United States by Nicaraguan Communist people?

The President. Well, I don't know whether I understand your question.

Q. Could there be any danger in that Mexico might be the bridge in order that communism might go through there in order to reach the United States?

The President. Well, let me just answer that in a broader sense. The Sandinistas themselves—early on after they took over-they proclaimed that their revolution was not going to be confined to their own borders. In other words, they were going to pursue Communist revolution throughout Latin America. Now, that was their statement , not ours. And so, I feel we ought to take them at their word.

Q. Thank you.

Written Responses to Questions Submitted by Excelsior

Mexico-U.S. Relations

Q. What is the basic purpose of your meeting with President De la Madrid? Does this meeting mean that your administration wants to cooperate in solving, for the benefit of both countries, the problems Mexico faces—and which would also affect the United States?

The President. This meeting is an opportunity for a friendly, frank, and open dialog between friends. Your President and I have gotten to know each other well since our first meeting in 1982. Beyond that, we do want to strengthen cooperative relations. Mexico and the United States are, above all, good neighbors. What affects Mexico does, indeed, affect the United States and vice versa. Being good neighbors means being willing to exchange views about problems and challenges we face and then seeing how we can work together for our mutual benefit.

Q. It seems that during the last 2 years some significant disagreements and tensions have surfaced in U.S.-Mexican relations. Some examples of this situation are the criticism by some U.S. elements of Mexican democracy and the pressure on Mexico by some U.S. Senators and other political figures with regards to Mexico's domestic politics and the corruption of Mexico's political system, which have even been questioned by some U.S. diplomats. What is your opinion of this situation, and how should relations be between two so close and so different neighboring countries?

The President. Maintaining a close, friendly, and mutually beneficial relationship between the United States and Mexico has always been one of my top foreign policy objectives. In fact, you may recall that President Lopez Portillo was the first head of state with whom I met, even before I assumed office. That's not to say that we don't have problems in our relationship from time to time. But with the relationship we have built together, we can discuss those problems honestly and try to resolve them. It's important to distinguish very carefully between the policy of the United States Government and the private views of individuals, whether they are political figures or ordinary citizens. I believe relations between our two countries are excellent and are typical of relations between old friends: We have our differences, but none of them can overcome our fundamental bonds and common concerns.

Mexico's Economy and Foreign Debt

Q. Do you believe that Mexico is adequately fulfilling its commitments with regards to its foreign debt servicing? If so, do you believe that the high interest rates on Mexico's debt are correct, taking into consideration that they harm, upset, and destabilize Mexican society?

The President. President De la Madrid and his cabinet have shown extraordinary courage and political will in proposing programs and policies to overcome economic difficulties and restore economic growth. There is still work to be done to ensure that Mexico will enjoy sustained economic growth in the future. Mexico has serviced its debt in a timely fashion and has not accumulated arrears as have some other debtor nations. As a result of its good record in cooperating with creditors in working out rescheduling agreements and its stabilization efforts after 1982, Mexico has enjoyed lower interest rate spreads than many other debtor nations. Interest charges on Mexican debt will be about $1.5 billion less this year than in 1985 as a result of these relatively narrower spreads and lower interest rates worldwide.

Q. Even though the U.S. Government is not a creditor of Mexico, U.S. banks are, and it is well known that U.S. banks operate according to the political environment between the two countries. It has also been proven that the Baker plan has not had the success which had been anticipated. As a consequence, the U.S. Treasury Department had to intervene directly to assist in alleviating—though temporarily—Mexico's financial crisis so that Mexico could be able to sign an agreement with the International Monetary Fund. Up to what point is your administration interested in Mexico's continued economic growth? And what would you advise creditors and indebted Latin American countries so that they could reach an equitable agreement and that the true economic development of the countries south of the Rio Grande would be feasible?

The President. A keystone of our policy towards Mexico is our desire to see your country continue to grow and develop as it did for several decades before 1982. Mexico clearly has the resources—in every sense of the word—to prosper and thereby better the lives of its people.

The economic restructuring program announced by President De la Madrid and outlined in the agreement with the International Monetary Fund augurs well for the future. The agreement with the IMF is based on an economic program developed by the Mexican authorities themselves. It is an equitable agreement which will allow Mexico to grow and meet its financial obligations.

Our debt strategy provides an overall framework for cooperation among debtor nations, commercial banks, and international financial institutions to achieve sustained economic growth. The major elements of the U.S. proposal for sustained growth are clearly evident in the Mexican program. I have urged other countries to follow Mexico's example.

There is no simple recipe that can be used everywhere to deal with nations debt problems. The countries which have been more successful economically have encouraged private initiative, avoided excessive regulation, and provided adequate incentives for productive investment. They have relied primarily on markets to set interest rates and prices and have maintained appropriate exchange rates. They have avoided excessive government consumption and control. The most successful countries have not relied on protectionism and import substitution but have followed a more outward-looking strategy.

Democracy and Nicaragua

Q. With regard to democracy and politics, what should both of them consist of? And why do countries like Nicaragua have to be characterized by your administration as they have? Would it be in accordance with democracy to intervene directly and officially in the affairs of other countries, as in the case of supporting the contras in Nicaragua? Do you think that such a small country can actually be considered a threat to the United States and U.S. allies?

The President. Democracy is a political system in which the people have a major say in their destiny. Democracy should consist of representative and pluralistic processes that will guarantee that the people take part in the decisions that will affect their lives. The system should ensure that the various currents of opinion have free access to fair, regular, and competitive elections based on the full observance of citizens rights. We realize, however, that while democracy requires elections, elections alone are not enough. Democracy must also consist of equal access to education, justice, and employment. Democracy also means the absence of tyranny, whether this be the tyranny of a minority over the majority or that of the majority over a minority.

Unfortunately in Nicaragua there is little evidence of democracy, and what vestiges remain are rapidly being stifled. We describe Nicaragua as a Marxist-Leninist state in simple recognition of the reality. I might add that they describe themselves as Marxist-Leninist. All of the elements which are commonly considered throughout the world as necessary for a democracy are being subjected to the tyranny of the commandantes in Nicaragua. The Sandinistas have now completed their elimination of the free press. They are harassing the Catholic Church and other religious groups. They are preventing the other political parties, labor unions, and business groups from carrying out their legitimate functions. In such circumstances it is not surprising that Nicaraguans who rejoiced at the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship have banded together to resist the consolidation of another dictatorship, a dictatorship with sponsors who come from outside of this hemisphere.

Communism in the Western Hemisphere

Q. You have stated that Nicaragua's communism could expand to Mexico. Could you tell me what Mexico should do to help prevent that, and what is Mexico not doing at the present time to avoid that from happening?

The President. I think your President would be better than I at answering your question. I have great respect for President De la Madrid and the Mexican people's commitment to democracy and Western values, which are inherently inconsistent with communism. We have seen how Communist governments in Cuba and Nicaragua have established close ties to the Soviet Union and have engaged in subversion of democratic governments as a matter of policy. Communists are hostile to democracy. They are hostile to the church. And they feel threatened by democratic governments. All people who cherish democracy should be deeply concerned about the consolidation of expansionist, Communist, pro-Soviet governments in this hemisphere.

Cuba-U.S. Relations

Q. Could you tell me if there are possibilities of a rapprochement between Washington and Havana in the near future?

The President. Cuba's rulers, who show no willingness to tolerate a dissenting thought in their own domain, have never been so out of step as they are now with trends in the hemisphere, where freedom and human rights are ascendant. Their Communist economic model has proven a dismal failure with a drop in per capita income under Castro's rule from among the highest in the hemisphere to among the lowest. In foreign policy, Cuba shows itself dedicated first and foremost to the Soviet alliance. Among its neighbors and as far away as Africa it sows violence and discord. There is little prospect of any significant improvement in our relations with such a Cuba. Yet despite these fundamental differences, we remain prepared to resolve specific issues, such as immigration, if Cuba is willing. Unfortunately, Cuba unilaterally suspended the one agreement we did reach and showed insufficient resolve to make progress during recent talks with our representatives in Mexico City.

Contadora Peace Initiative

Q. It is said that the Contadora peace initiative was not signed because of the pressures the United States exercised on El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Guatemala. Is this true? If it is not true, could you tell us what, in your view, is the reason for the stalemate in the Contadora process?

The President. It certainly is not true. We have never pressured the Central American democracies not to sign a Contadora peace treaty. The problem is that the draft is not complete; it is not ready for signature. The democracies have given detailed explanations of its deficiencies. The draft needs to be strengthened in several areas, such as verification and democratization. Also, it calls for negotiations on arms limits to begin after the treaty has already been signed and implemented. When you look at it closely, it asks the Central Americans to "sign now, negotiate later." The Central Americans don't need us or any other nation to tell them that this is not a smart thing to do.

The principal problem confronting the Contadora process is the same as it has always been: The Sandinistas are unwilling to seriously negotiate many of the key points of the 1983 Document of Objectives. They have been intransigent on the political aspects of democracy and national reconciliation as well as on military levels. They want a treaty which immediately gives them what they want—relief from the pressure of the democratic resistance—but puts no real obligations on them. They have repeatedly blocked progress, using the standard Communist negotiating tactic of being inflexible in order to force the other parties to make concessions. Now they are saying that they will sign the incomplete draft, but they are conditioning their acceptance on their own proposal for arms limits. They have proposed limits on 14 categories of weapons—many of which they don't even have. They are refusing to limit most of their major weapons systems or the size of their huge army.

The Central American democracies have properly rejected this proposal and are insisting that realistic arms levels be established. They are prepared to continue working for a comprehensive agreement that will bring lasting peace to the region. We seek a political solution in Nicaragua. What we want to see is a democratic outcome with free and fair elections for all political parties, where all potential candidates are given the opportunity to participate, and a free and open society which will live at peace with its neighbors and its own people.

Latin America-U.S. Relations

Q. According to your earlier statements criticizing dictatorships of the left and of the right, after what has happened in the Philippines and Haiti, do you think that the downfall of the current governments in Paraguay and Chile is near? What is the status of overall U.S. relations with Latin American countries?

The President. Any change of government in either of those two countries would stem, of course, from decisions made by the peoples of those nations, not the U.S. Our policy toward Chile and Paraguay is to support peaceful and orderly transitions to full democratic rule and to encourage greater respect for human rights. We try to implement this policy through communications with both the Government and the democratic opposition in each country, with the goal of promoting dialog between them.

As for the second part of your question, our relations with Latin America are currently at one of the highest levels in the history of our countries. The expansion of democracy throughout the region in the last decade has reinforced the bond between us. Our democratically elected governments represent the will of the people, and this fact enables us to work more easily and more effectively together. Our support to the majority of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, either in moving to democracy or solidifying the existing democracies, has strengthened the ties between our governments and our peoples. Together we are working to assure the security of our peoples and our way of life.

Soviet-U.S. Relations

Q. The Group of the Six [nonaligned nations] has called for the suspension of nuclear tests and the freezing of war arsenals. Do you think such an action is viable at this time, taking into consideration your upcoming meeting with Soviet leader Gorbachev? Also, keeping in mind the increasing tension in East-West and North-South relations, do you think that violence could break out not only at a regional but at the worldwide level?

The President. I think we all share the eventual goal of a world totally free of nuclear weapons. But we differ on whether a nuclear-testing moratorium truly contributes to this process. A nuclear-testing moratorium is not in the security interests of the United States, its allies, and its friends. Now, and for some time, the security of the United States, its allies, and its friends must rely on a credible and effective nuclear deterrent. In my view, this makes nuclear testing imperative.

For the United States, therefore, a comprehensive test ban (CTB) remains a long-term objective. Such a ban must be viewed in the context of a time when we do not need to depend on nuclear deterrence to ensure international security and stability and when we have achieved broad, deep, and verifiable arms reductions, substantially improved verification capabilities, expanded confidence-building measures, and greater balance in conventional forces. For the near term, our priority is to improve the verification provisions of existing limitations: the Threshold Test Ban Treaty (TTBT) and the Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty (PNET).

We have recently opened expert-level discussions with the Soviets on the broad range of nuclear-testing issues. We provided the Soviets with the details of our verification concerns regarding the TTBT and PNET and advised them that resolution of these concerns would enable us to move forward on their ratification. We also heard and discussed Soviet concerns. In those discussions, and in current arms control negotiations, we are hopeful of achieving progress which would truly enhance security, stability, and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev and I promised at our Geneva summit to accelerate arms control negotiations, and the United States is working hard to honor that pledge.

Freezing or capping nuclear weapons at their current high level just isn't good enough. The world has too many nuclear arms. We need real cuts. I think we can achieve genuine reductions in nuclear weapons in Geneva, which I think will move us toward our ultimate objectives. A moratorium or a nuclear weapons freeze will not. The United States seeks to enhance its own security by promoting freedom and prosperity throughout the world. At the same time, we must take account of the diversity of regional conflicts and the conditions in which they arise. Most of the world's turbulence has indigenous causes, and not every regional conflict should be viewed as part of the East-West conflict.

Nonetheless, General Secretary Gorbachev and I agreed at our summit meeting in Geneva that any conflict between the U.S.S.R. and the United States could have catastrophic consequences. We emphasized the importance of preventing any war between us, whether conventional or nuclear, and we agreed that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. Therefore, my administration has insisted that the issue of regional security must have a prominent place on the agenda of U.S.-Soviet relations. Since the Geneva summit we have had a number of discussions with the Soviets on a wide range of regional issues. This process has been very useful for us, and we intend to continue it.

U.S. World Role

Q. Your early image of a charismatic man and of a typical American has increasingly been projected towards that of a world public opinion leader-criticized by many, but also authentic. What do you think of yourself and your actions during the time you have been President of the United States? What do you think of the country you received as President and of the country you will turn to your successor when your term is over?

The President. Let me take those first two questions together. I think the past 6 years have shown that America is back on its feet, back to being the major force for progress and freedom in the world. Six years ago we started working hard at home, restoring our defenses and putting our own economic house in order. After rebuilding those strengths, we're able to play a much stronger role in the world. I think we see that more clearly right here in this hemisphere. Today over 90 percent of the people of Latin America and the Caribbean enjoy self-government, compared to one-third only 6 years ago.

Now, how did this progress occur? Most of it has to do with the courage and determination of the people of Latin America, who have worked to build democratic institutions despite threats from outside and subversion by violent minorities within. But I believe the United States also made a contribution through our military and economic assistance. So, both trends—toward freedom and toward greater U.S. strength-have reinforced each other.

I think we see this elsewhere in the world, too. You don't hear much anymore about how the United States is ineffective abroad. You don't hear much about our unwillingness to help our friends. And that's because we've shown—from Latin America to the Philippines, from the Middle East to Western Europe—that we're determined to stick by our principles and our friends and to promote those principles wherever we think it's possible.

As for your last question: The United States has always been a beacon to people who aspire to liberty and self-government. That's as true today as it was in 1890, and it will be just as true in 1990. And if we've been able to strengthen her over the past few years—and I think we have—then we'll have done what the people of the United States elected us to do.

Note: The interview took place in the Oval Office at the White House. The transcript was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on August 19.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks in an Interview With Representatives of Excelsior of Mexico, Together With Written Responses to Questions Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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