Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks to Representatives of the Organization of American States

November 09, 1987

Well, I realize that I'm holding up dessert, but I won't promise to sit down right away. On behalf of the American people, I want to welcome you all to our Nation's Capital. It's a great pleasure to have this opportunity to meet with you today.

I think it's sometimes true that we don't recognize the great historical moments until they're passed. When released from the daily struggles, we can look back and assess the full magnitude of what we have accomplished. I believe that this last decade is one such time—a time that will be recorded in history as a great democratic awakening in the Americas, when the nations of this hemisphere advanced together toward a new era of freedom.

A new era of freedom: We see it developing in the free trade agreement between this nation and our great neighbor to the north—an agreement, it's my fervent hope, that will not be an end in itself, but the beginning of a revolution in free trade that will embrace not just the United States and Canada but the entire hemisphere.

A new era of freedom: We see it stoutly defended by the Caribbean democracies, small in land size, perhaps, but big in heart and will, who, with courage and idealism, stood fast and stood together when one of their number, Grenada, was threatened by an alien, hostile tyranny.

A new era of freedom: We see it throughout Central and South America—the great democratic awakening that in the last 10 years has brought 90 percent of the people of Latin America into the family of democratic nations.

Last month at the OAS, I spoke of what a great honor it was to address so many colleagues, in the democratic enterprise. That's no less true today. And one of the great privileges of my office is that I have been able, in the last several years, to meet with the leaders of practically every democratic nation in the hemisphere. When they've visited me in the White House, the talk was of the usual business transacted between heads of state. But when all that was done, there was one personal note that I had to add, something as important as anything else we discussed, something that comes directly from the heart.

The history of the hemisphere and the relations between our country and Latin America—they've not always been easy. But the days of the Colossus of the North, I have said on those occasions: Those days are over they're gone forever. The dominance of democracy in Latin America has fundamentally altered the hemisphere. The precedent we must look to today is the one I'm reminded of by your own leaders, stories of men such as Francisco de Miranda of Venezuela, who fought in the Battle of Pensacola in our nation's war of Independence, the battle that paved the way for Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown; or the story of General Artigas, supported by our new democracy in his independent battle against colonial Portugal. These men shared a single faith—faith in the democratic destiny in the Americas, faith in the—well, they knew all the American wars of independence were really one and the same—the struggle of mankind to fulfill his destiny of freedom.

Today those independence struggles still continue. Brave men still fight to throw off an alien tyranny imposed from outside our hemisphere. As [President of El Salvador] Jose Napoleon Duarte said, there are two revolutionary processes underway in Central America. One is a democratic revolution to replace the dictatorships of the past with freedom and human rights. The other, he said, is a revolution that looks to substitute traditional dictatorships with a new dictatorship, that looks to substitute the traditional caudillos with the new caudillos of the totalitarian left.

This week, as we all know, is the week that the Guatemala accord goes into effect in Central America. I've spoken at length of the Sandinistas and their failure to live up to the promises of democracy and human rights they made to the OAS in 1979. There's no need to repeat that record of broken promises today. The business at hand is to determine compliance with the Guatemala accord, to examine, with clear-eyed realism, the progress of peace and democracy in Central America.

As we look at how the Guatemala accord has been implemented to date, one can't help but conclude that the differences between the democracies and the Communists in Central America have never been so apparent. Basic to the Central American peace plan is an understanding that peace will only emerge in Central America when genuine steps are taken by all sides toward reconciliation and democracy.

Reconciliation—none could have pursued that with greater nobility and strength of heart than the President of El Salvador. When President Duarte visited me last month, he told me of his negotiations with the Communist guerrillas—the FMLN-how he sat in the same room with the men who'd kidnaped his daughter and said to them: There will be a complete amnesty in El Salvador. All prisoners will be released. All will be forgiven, just as I, Napoleon Duarte, forgive you.

That's the democratic temperament, the true spirit of reconciliation. Contrast that to the partial and grudging release of prisoners in Nicaragua. Thousands of political prisoners still remain in their jails. Many of them have languished there for as long as 8 years, and the Sandinistas have said there are thousands who will never be released. Well, that's the voice of totalitarianism.

The contrast is just as stark on the question of negotiations. The Nicaraguan freedom fighters ask no more than the democratic guarantees contained in the peace plan. All they want is a chance to compete peacefully for power in Nicaragua, in a democratic way. But the Communist guerrillas-the FMLN in El Salvador and the URNG in Guatemala—want no part of democracy. They were offered a chance to compete for power within the democratic process, but they refused it. They broke off negotiations, demanding power without elections. Well, I'm sorry, that's just not the democratic way.

We see the contrast between democracy and communism in another area, too. Despite the clear requirements of the Guatemala accord, the Sandinistas still refuse to lift their state of emergency. President Duarte and President Cerezo [of Guatemala], whose countries are also torn by violence, make no excuses. They have no state of emergency. Only in Nicaragua is the state of emergency still in effect.

There is, however, one hopeful sign. I welcome the designation of Cardinal Obando y Bravo as the mediator between the Sandinista regime and the Nicaraguan resistance. I have repeatedly said that the struggle in Nicaragua is fundamentally a contest among Nicaraguans over their own future, and that can only be resolved by negotiations between Nicaraguans. The indirect talks the Sandinistas have now agreed to are a way to start that process. It remains clear that the next step must be direct negotiations, of precisely the sort that President Cerezo and President Duarte have already conducted.

The United States has a role to play, as a neighbor of Central America and an ally of the region's four democracies and of the Nicaraguan people. Our goals are simple to state: democracy in Nicaragua and peace in the region. And clearly, there can be no peace in the region until there is democracy in Nicaragua.

When serious negotiations between the Sandinistas and the freedom fighters, under the mediation of Cardinal Obando, are underway, Secretary [of State] Shultz will be ready to meet jointly with the foreign ministers of all five Central American nations, including the Sandinistas' representative. Before such a meeting and throughout this period, we will consult closely with the freedom fighters, for the key to democracy and peace in the region is freedom and national reconciliation in Nicaragua.

Regional negotiations including the United States can be a helpful adjunct to negotiations among the Central American nations and between the Sandinistas and the freedom fighters. They cannot be a substitute. The Central American democracies will speak for themselves about their national interests, and the Sandinistas must negotiate directly with the freedom fighters and the internal opposition to bring about true democracy and national reconciliation in Nicaragua.

There is a consensus among the Central American democracies—and it's a point often stressed by President Azcona [of Honduras]—that, in this peace process, democracy comes first. Essential steps toward establishing true and secure democratic guarantees must be taken before the other conditions for peace can be met. As President Arias [of Costa Rica] said: "If democracy doesn't take hold in Nicaragua, the armed struggle will continue. The day the Sandinistas or another political movement are chosen freely in elections accepted by all Nicaraguans, there will be no more reason for violence."

Well, democracy is the key—and one of the best indications of democratic reform is a free press. The Guatemala accord is clear on this point: It doesn't call for opening only one opposition paper. It calls for complete freedom of the press, radio, and television. The Central American democracies are in compliance with the accord—Nicaragua is nowhere near. So far, only La Prensa is allowed to operate and even it is restricted in reporting military and economic news. Radio Catolica has been forbidden to broadcast news. There is still no independent television broadcasting in Nicaragua, and the many other news outlets remain closed.

Let me just say here: We have all been very patient in giving the peace process time to work. The Wright-Reagan plan was scheduled to take effect on September 30th. The original deadline for compliance with the Guatemala accord was this week. Now we're told the deadline has been pushed off until mid-January. It's in no one's interest to let this peace process become another round of endless and fruitless negotiations.

Recently, President Arias was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize for his central role in putting together the Guatemala accord. And I am certain that President Arias saw this as a symbol and inspiration to all those working for peace in this hemisphere. But this noble beginning must have a noble end. In that, the OAS has a special responsibility. For, as I said when I addressed your Ambassadors last month, the OAS has already made a negotiated settlement with the Sandinistas, one that we are duty-bound to keep. In 1979, in an unprecedented action, we helped remove a sitting government and bring the Sandinistas to power.

As part of that settlement, we promised the people of Nicaragua that we would see to it that their hope of freedom would not be disappointed. We can not walk away from that promise now. As President Arias has said: We can accept no substitute for democracy in Nicaragua. Only democracy will fulfill our promises to the Nicaraguan people. Only democracy, and nothing less, will bring peace to Central America.

Now, as all of you are aware, there's a summit meeting coming up between myself and General Secretary Gorbachev. We hope at that time to sign an historic agreement that would wipe out an entire class of nuclear missiles. But as we always do in our talks with the Soviets, we will continue to insist on progress in the other three critical areas: expanded contacts between our peoples, human rights, and most importantly, a negotiated end to regional conflicts around the world.

Today, even as their economy flags at home, the Soviets spend billions to maintain or impose Communist rule abroad, projecting Soviet power by largely military means. Eastern Europe, Cuba, Vietnam, South Yemen, Angola, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nicaragua, and Afghanistan—the burden must be enormous. But Soviet leaders, who live vastly better than their people, are willing to make that sacrifice because it is only their military might, they know, that gives them superpower status.

Numbers vary, but one study by the Rand Corporation estimated that in 1983 between 3.56 and 4.44 percent of the Soviet gross national product went to subsidize states supporting Soviet aims. It's estimated that the Soviet war on Afghanistan costs them between $5 billion and $6 billion a year. The Soviet bloc has supplied some $2 billion in military hardware to the Sandinistas alone.

When I meet with General Secretary Gorbachev, I will ask him: Isn't it time to reconsider this adventurism abroad? In the spirit of glasnost, isn't it time that the Soviet Union put an end to these destructive, wasteful conflicts around the world? Without an end to Soviet efforts to impose totalitarian regimes through force of arms, there will never be a true glasnost, true openness, between this nation and ours.

Well, I thank you for your attention. The next few months will be among the most crucial in the history of our hemisphere. As the peace process unfolds, we must be vigilant and, at the same time, we must be honest with ourselves and with the world. We shall be holding all parties to one single and true standard, the standard of democracy. As free peoples of the Americas, we have earned the right to proclaim that standard and hold others to it. And as free people of the Americas, we can do no less.

Shortly after I took office, I made a trip to Latin America and visited some of the countries represented here today. Couldn't get to all of them, of course, but I went with one message. I knew the image of the Great Colossus of the North that we held. And I knew that there had been many plans introduced by previous administrations of how to bring about better relations in the Americas. But always, it was the big Colossus that had the plan and came down and said, "Here, everybody sign on."

And on my trip, I wasn't there to say that. I said I didn't have any plan; that I came down to see what ideas you might have, because my idea was that it is high time that in this—two continents and that connecting bridge of Central America-here, unique in all the world, we had the opportunity to literally make our borders meeting places where all of us together as allies, from the tip of Tierra del Fuego to the North Pole, we are all Americans; we occupy the American continents and Central America. And if we could come together, as we should, with our common heritage of pioneering that brought us here—people with a dream of freedom that left their homelands all over the world to come to these continents that the Lord had left here between the oceans to be found by that kind of people—if we could be the neighbors and the allies that we should be, we would be a force for good in the world beyond anything that had ever seen.

And I was only asking for suggestions and help that maybe we could bring that about. And here I am, in the midst of the representatives of the Organization of American States. And that's why I think this one issue is so important to all of us—because it literally can block that dream of an American alliance from pole to pole.

Thank you all. And I'm sorry I kept you from dessert so long. I want to thank you all, and God bless you all. And maybe I haven't had an opportunity to tell you while I kept you from your dessert, about in ancient Rome, when the lions were turned loose upon the Christians and the one Christian stood up and said a few quiet words, and the lions all laid down. The crowd was mad, and Caesar sent for the man that had spoken. He said, "What did you say to them that made them act like that?" He said, "I just told them that after they ate there'd be speeches." [Laughter]

Thank you all.

Note: The President spoke at 1:39 p.m. at a luncheon in the Jefferson Room at the Department of State.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks to Representatives of the Organization of American States Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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