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Remarks at a State Dinner for Representatives of the Organization of American States

April 15, 1972

President Mora, Your Excellencies, and ladies and gentlemen:

I understand that during the past week that all of you have been exposed to a great number of speeches and tonight therefore, at this very, shall we say, friendly occasion, I hesitate to impose upon you another speech. But I will speak briefly and then I would like to add a few words directly in a very personal sense to those who are members of what I call, and what I think most of you call, the American family, our family.

First, we want to welcome you here, as I have welcomed you previously. Yesterday in the Canadian Parliament, as Senator Aiken, who is Canada's Senator in the United States Senate, they told me at least, in any event, knows, I was told that unless I spoke some French I would have no success in my speech. So I went back 37 years and picked out a few words and one way or another managed some French that some probably misunderstood.

But whatever the case might be, let me say that as far as my Spanish is concerned, it is limited, but it is from the heart when I say, "Estan ustcdes en su casa," and we are very honored to welcome you here again.

As you know, we come from southern California and we have a strong Spanish heritage--not only where we lived, but also our honeymoon was in Mexico and we have memories that we will always carry with us of those times. So our home in San Clemente, California, is one that we named Casa Pacifica. Casa Pacifica has two meanings. If you have seen this home, it is one that has a magnificent view of the Pacific so it is "The House on the Pacific" or "of the Pacific." But also it has another sense. It also, we believe and trust, will be recorded in history as a "House of Peace." And therefore we think that that Spanish word, Casa Pacifica, and that sentiment is one that should particularly characterize our thoughts tonight.

When we think of Pan American Week, it is hard to realize that 82 years ago the First International Conference established the International Union of American Republics, which of course was the forerunner of this organization.

And we have to realize and I have noted that during the course of your discussions that we have had some differences, differences this week and differences over those 82 years, but considering what happened in those 82 years, in the Americas and in the world, it would be considered remarkable that an organization like this, which is comprised, as it is, of many diverse viewpoints, could endure at all over these eight decades of change.

So, we stand tonight, not only in existence in the OAS, but we stand poised for even more progress as partners. But let me put the term partners in a different sense: Partners in principles, but not necessarily partners in every policy. And, of course, partners in principle is what really matters.

This week has been Pan American Week, in creative deeds as well as in the generalized words of the customary proclamations and resolutions. Yesterday, on Pan American Day, I addressed the Parliament of Canada, as I referred to a moment ago, the American nation of the North. And tonight, here in Washington, we gather with the representatives of the American nations of the South, after a week of conferences that you have had.

We are, in the year 1972, in a year that world attention is focused on East-West relations, the relations for example of the great powers, great in terms of their military strength, their potential military strength--the Soviet Union and the United States, the Soviet Union and China, China and the United States. And in this year of East-West activities, it is good for the United States and for all our fellow American nations to devote this week to the vitality of the North-South relationship. Because, as I said in Canada, at a time that we in the United States, we believe in the interest of world peace, are attempting to develop a new relationship with our adversary, it is enormously important to develop better relationships with our friends and particularly our friends in the American community.

Our Western Hemisphere ties provide the basic strengths which sustain us as we move toward that goal.

And now if I could turn to my good friend Galo Plaza [Secretary General, Organization of American States]. He spoke of the "fresh winds of change" that are blowing through the OAS and through the Americas in general and he is right. And we have felt those winds of change. That is good, that we have felt them and, frankly, that they are blowing, because we live in a world in which there must be change, change for the better, progress for all people.

Our basic policy position is a new practical acknowledgment that the general term "Latin America" now means something that it didn't used to mean. It means not a uniform voice, Latin America, all those countries down there speaking with one voice, one language, in a sense, but rather a plurality of views.

If I could interpolate here, I am the first President of the United States who has visited every country in Central America and every country in South America, and I know that what the State Department tells every visitor to these parts of the world before he goes, and what they told me is true. That the greatest mistake a traveler in Central America and South America and, for that matter, the Caribbean can make, is to assume that it is just one great part of the world that is very much alike. It is alike in many ways, but very different in other ways. They are proud peoples, they are different peoples. Many speak the same language, many have the same ideals, but, on the other hand, the important thing for us in the United States to do is to recognize and respect each country in Latin America for what it is and what it stands for and to know them for what they are and what they stand for. This I know from having traveled to all of these countries.

We recognize that diversity has resulted in different kinds of government within Latin America, with varying national goals and methods, and we realize that all of this presents problems.

The United States is no stranger to policy differences and to the efforts needed to forge strengths from the fires of discord.

Consequently, we stand prepared to work as a mature and equal partner on the inevitable differences that have arisen and have continued to arise because of the developing new realities in the American hemisphere.

Let us all recognize that when we talk about differences there are some things that will not change as far as U.S. policy is concerned. We will continue to give a special priority to our unique relationships with Latin America.

I say that here; I could say it also with regard to all of the American hemisphere, to the Americas generally, to Canada, and to the American family in its largest sense. We have special relationships with many countries in the world, but priority must necessarily go to our closest friends and our closest neighbors in the American hemisphere.

We will deal realistically with governments as they are, not seeking to impose our political structure on other nations. We recognize that each nation must seek its own way and we respect the fight of all people in the various countries with whom we deal in the American family to seek their own way, and we shall continue to demonstrate our deep humanitarian concern for the people of the hemisphere.

If I could interject here just a sense of the feeling that Mrs. Nixon and I have for the countries that you the Foreign Ministers, the Ambassadors, and the others represent here today.

We think of you as representatives of government and we respect you as representatives of government. But also, we think of you as representatives of people. When I think of Latin America I remember, for example, the friends I have met there. I remember a very handsome, vigorous, young man from the Foreign Office--he was young then, in 1955. He had gone to the University of California, had played football, had been a great star and was back in his country of El Salvador, his name means nothing to you. It was Quinones. But he was such a good man and strong man and spoke so fervently about his small country that I realized and sensed from him the sentiment that the people in the countries to the south have for their countries, the patriotism they feel for their countries, large or small.

I remember a ride one night, as we were going to a state dinner in Bolivia. We were riding down a mountain road. It was rather dark and we saw along the road a group of students gathered. They were young students and their teachers were there with them. I asked the driver, "Who are they?" They were waving. He said, "That is the school for the blind." We stopped the car. We got out. We shook their hands, a few of them. We talked to the Sister who was in charge of the school.

I have seen and my wife has, schools for the blind all over the world. But only as you see and feel the hand of a blind person can you realize the universality of the feelings each of us has in his heart for all the people of this world. And I shall always remember that school for the blind in La Paz, Bolivia.

And then my wife had an experience that she says was the mountain top experience of her travels in the world. She went to Peru after the 1970 earthquake, and she flew with Senora Velasco,1 for whom we gave a dinner, a luncheon here, into the earthquake zone. She saw the great tragedy, all of the destruction, but what impressed her was the courage, the strength, the dignity of the people, young and old, those beautiful faces in the face of adversity they are going to build a new country, and she brought back with her therefore a feeling for the people of Peru which she communicated to me, and I think also communicated to the American people.

What I am saying to my friends here in the American family--we do not think of you simply as representatives of government, but we think of you very truly as members of our family. There are blind people in our family. There are people who have suffered adversity, and Peru, of course, has had another earthquake. There are people who are old friends and dear friends, and it is that special relationship that we hope that all Americans can understand, because as we understand that we are a family, then we can develop a more understandable policy for the Americas.

What I am suggesting here is that an intangible force forms the basis of the solidarity among the Americas. This force was well defined over 50 years ago by another President standing in this room. Listen to his words Woodrow Wilson: "We must prove ourselves their friends and champions upon terms of equality and honor. You cannot be friends upon any other terms than upon the terms of equality. You cannot be friends at all except upon the terms of honor. We must show ourselves friends by comprehending their interest whether it squares with our own interest or not."

I say to you tonight, we, the United States, do comprehend. The United States is and will remain your friend, your champion, no matter what difficulties present themselves, in your countries, in ours, or any place on earth.

Now comes the time for the traditional toast at this dinner. There are so many people of high rank that we would have to go around the table Chinese style, tipping every glass in order to do it adequately, but I am afraid most of us probably couldn't survive the evening in the event we did that, so we have selected one of your members, the President of this Organization, as the one who will receive the toast on behalf of all of you.

Before toasting this very distinguished statesman, President Mora, let me say a word about the profession he represents. He is one who has been in diplomacy most of his life, as most of you have been in diplomacy. Now diplomats have very difficult times in every country, including the United States, but let me tell you how very important they are. I had it brought home to me today.

I signed a very thick treaty today with the Prime Minister of Canada. They brought the treaty over, they turned the page, they said, "Sign here." And I signed. Now as a lawyer, or a former lawyer, I know better than to sign something without reading it. Why did I sign it? I will tell you why.

While the Prime Minister of Canada and I were being seen on television, while we were meeting, a meeting at the summit of our two countries, discussing these important things, the work was being done that made possible our agreements, by scores of able, dedicated people. Some were Foreign Ministers, some were Secretaries of State, others were at other levels in their Foreign Service, but all were enormously important.

I simply want to say that in this year of summitry, here is one who goes to the summit, who knows that without the help of those who make it possible for him to go, who dig out the little places on those mountains where you step before you get to the top, there could be no summitry whatever.

And for that reason, as I raise my glass with yours, to the President of this Organization, let me say, it is raised to all of those in this room who have given your lives to the service of diplomacy, to the service of peace and therefore to the service of your own country and to the American family. So I ask that you rise, raise your glasses to la familia americana and to President Mora.

1 Consuelo Gonzalez de Velasco, wife of Gen. Juan Velasco Alvarado, President of Peru.

Note: The President spoke at 9:58 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.

Jose A. Mora, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uruguay, was President of the General Assembly, Organization of American States.

President Nixon spoke from a prepared text. An advance text of his remarks was released on the same day.

On April 10, 1972, the President signed Proclamation 4122, Pan American Day and Pan American Week.

Richard Nixon, Remarks at a State Dinner for Representatives of the Organization of American States Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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