Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks to an Outreach Working Group on United States Policy in Central America

July 18, 1984

I'm very pleased to be here with you. And I want to take this opportunity to thank Faith Whittlesey for her continuing efforts to keep all of you informed about developments in Central America and about United States policy for that region.

Over the last year, these Central American outreach group meetings have been held. You've heard from dozens of witnesses telling you what has happened to them, to their country, and to their hopes for freedom, democracy, and peace.

Tomorrow will be an especially poignant anniversary for our democratic Nicaraguan friends. They'll recall the joy that they felt 5 years ago. A dictatorship was defeated, and a democracy was promised for their future by the Sandinistas, who had led the revolution. But the Sandinista revolution is a revolution betrayed, a revolution that has left in its wake a trail of broken promises, broken hearts, and broken dreams.

Tragically, there is far less personal freedom, far more repression in Nicaragua today than there was 5 years ago. And I'm told there are several among you here who have seen firsthand the truth of these words.

The Nicaraguan people are trapped in a totalitarian dungeon, trapped by a military dictatorship that impoverishes them while its rulers live in privileged and protected luxury and openly boast their revolution will spread to Nicaragua's neighbors as well. It's a dictatorship made all the more insulting, all the more dangerous by the unwanted presence of thousands of Cuban, Soviet-bloc, and radical Arab helpers.

I know you've heard how the Catholic Church has been persecuted and treated as an enemy by the Sandinista regime. When the priests who were expelled from Nicaragua reached Costa Rica last Monday they celebrated a mass in San Jose with Archbishop Roman Arrieta of San Jose. The Archbishop said in his homily, "There were still in the world men and women of good will who did not believe a totalitarian regime had enthroned itself in Nicaragua." Then he said, "Now those people know the truth."

Well, unfortunately, all of them don't know the truth. I have just read in today's press where September 14 to 16 in Cleveland, Ohio, there will be a meeting brought about by several organizations in our country, and it will be—or is billed as a nationwide conference against U.S.. military intervention in Central America. Well, if 55 trainers in a country like El Salvador is military intervention, I think they're exaggerating a little bit.

The Pope, who was so outrageously insulted during his mass in Managua in March of 1983, asked for prayers for the church in Nicaragua. He expressed his disapproval and his intimate suffering with those who live under the boot of Sandinista oppression. And as I said on Monday at the marking of Captive Nations Week, I know I speak for millions of Americans who join the Pope in saying: We, too, disapprove. And, yes, people of Nicaragua, we, too, suffer with you.

If the Sandinistas want cooperation and friendship from the civilized world, then they can start by treating their own citizens in a civilized manner. They can start honoring their promises of freedom—freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of worship. And they can agree to abide by the most basic and honorable principle of a democracy: that government must derive its legitimacy from the consent of the governed.

All of us who cherish democratic values should insist the Sandinistas permit genuinely open and fair and free democratic elections. We must insist that the Sandinistas, like their Guatemalan, Honduran, and El Salvadoran neighbors, open their doors to representatives from democratic organizations to observe their upcoming elections, especially the Organization of American States, OAS, because it was to the OAS that they promised democracy. And the OAS recognized the Sandinista regime based on these promises.

Tomorrow, I will be meeting in South Carolina with Caribbean leaders who know from firsthand experience how a hostile country in their midst can threaten their stability and security. As our Congress returns next week, I urge them once again to understand our responsibility as a trustee of freedom and to vote for the resources that I have requested to support democracy in Central America. And I hope all of you will continue attending these Central American outreach meetings.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once asked: "Can one part of humanity learn from the bitter experience of another? Is it possible to warn someone of danger? How many witnesses have been sent to the West in the last 60 years? How many waves of emigrants? How many millions of persons? They're all here. You meet them every day. You know who they are: if not by their spiritual disorientation, their grief, their melancholy, then you can distinguish them by their accents or their external appearance. Coming from different countries, without consulting with one another, they have brought you exactly the same experience; they tell you exactly the same thing—they warn you of what is now taking place and of what has taken place in the past."

Well, I do believe that it's possible to warn of danger, to learn from the millions of witnesses who have come to the West fleeing totalitarianism. But we must not turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the truth. We must have the wisdom to understand, and we must have the courage to act.

This you are helping us do. And I can only say, thank you all, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 2:31 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building.

In his opening remarks, the President referred to Assistant to the President for Public Liaison Faith R. Whittlesey.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks to an Outreach Working Group on United States Policy in Central America Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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