Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at a Summit Conference of Caribbean Heads of State at the University of South Carolina in Columbia

July 19, 1984

Fellow heads of state, our host, the president of this university: I must say, when you mentioned honorary degrees, you reawakened a sense of guilt. I'm quite cognizant of the honor and the pleasure, but I recall also that when my own alma mater gave me an honorary degree 25 years after my graduation, I told them at the time I had thought the first one they gave me was honorary. [Laughter]

It's a special honor and a pleasure for me to participate in this gathering of leaders from the Caribbean. You're among our nearest neighbors and our closest friends. Our societies, economies, and histories have been intertwined from the earliest days of the Americas.

As we face the future together, I think we have good reason to be confident. For, years ago—4 years ago, I should say, economic prospects were bleak, and the forces of tyranny were on the move, emboldened by what seemed to be a paralysis among the democratic peoples of the hemisphere. But by joining together with courage and determination, we've turned that situation around.

Now, the tide of the future is a freedom tide. The free people of this hemisphere are united and share a common sense of purpose. Nowhere is that more apparent than with the United States and the Caribbean democracies as has been so evident in our meeting today.

Over these past 4 years, we've strived to encourage democracy, enhance the economic vitality of the region, and cooperate in the defense of freedom. Now, these are not separate goals. They are mutually reinforcing. President Jorge Blanco pointed that out earlier this year when he observed, "Bread, health, education, liberty, democracy, and peace are indivisible and irreplaceable values."

I firmly believe that democratic government is the birthright of every American. And when I say "American," I'm talking about all of us in this Western Hemisphere, which together is called the Americas—all of us from the North Slope of Alaska to the tip of Tierra del Fuego. And much progress has been made. Today 26 of 33 independent countries in the hemisphere, countries with 90 percent of the hemisphere's population, are democratic or in transition to democracy. You realize when I refer to "democratic," I do so with a small "d." [Laughter]

Your own democracies are an example to developing countries everywhere. That's not to say that you don't face great challenges. The worldwide recession has profoundly affected the Caribbean with market prices for key commodities you produce dropping even as the costs of your imports were rising. The United States has been hard pressed economically. But we've done our best to help and provide hope, and we'll continue to do so. The United States has a deep and abiding interest in the well. being of its neighbors.

In the last 3 years, we've begun to put our own economic house in order by cutting down the growth of government spending and regulations. We're enjoying high growth, declining unemployment, and low inflation. And we've become, once again, an engine for worldwide economic progress. We believe the secret of that success is lower tax rates. And that's a secret everyone can share and benefit from.

At the same time, we've increased our aid to the region and helped strengthen the International Monetary Fund's ability assist countries with debt problems. But let's be realistic; stopgap measures with the IMF are merely that—temporary solutions. The ultimate solution is strong and steady growth in every Caribbean country.

Our Caribbean Basin Initiative, now getting underway, gives your people new access to the world's largest and most dynamic government—market, I meant to say—too much television. [Laughter] It encourages job-creating business investment for growth and prosperity and is being put into place at a time when a strong dollar and an expanding American economy can translate into greater demand for your products. The Caribbean Basin Initiative is part of our broader, overall economic strategy to improve economic vitality and raise living standards throughout the Caribbean.

We can and must work together to improve the well-being of our people and to ensure our safety, as well. I'd like to take this opportunity to congratulate many of you for your courage and leadership in turning back the Communist power grab in Grenada last fall. We can be proud that thanks to the unity and determination of our democracies, we saved the people of that troubled island; we restored their freedom; we revived their hope in the future; and we prevented danger and turmoil from spreading beyond Grenada's shores. Let us always remember the crucial distinction between the legitimate use of force for liberation versus totalitarian aggression for conquest.

But what was happening in Grenada was not an isolated incident. The Soviet bloc and Cuba have been committing enormous resources to undermining our liberty and independence. Nowhere is this threat more pressing than in Nicaragua, a country which today marks the fifth year of Sandinista dictatorship.

The Sandinista revolution, like Castro's revolution, is a revolution betrayed. And now faced with mounting internal pressures and disillusionment abroad, the Sandinistas have announced an election for November of this year. We would wholeheartedly welcome a genuine democratic election in Nicaragua. But no person committed to democracy will be taken in by a Soviet-style sham election.

The situation in Nicaragua is not promising; but if the Sandinistas would keep their original commitment, permit free elections, respect human rights and establish an independent nation, conflict in the region would subside.

In the meantime, we have a moral responsibility to support anyone who aspires to live in a true democracy, free from Communist interference. If the democratic peoples do not stand together, we certainly will be unable to stand alone.

Just a few years ago, totalitarianism was on the rise. But there's a new spirit among democratic peoples. Prime Minister Adams described it when he said, "There is a community of interest among democratic countries which can transcend ethnici—ethnicis—city"—I'm sorry—twisting that word up—"and differences in economic development." This spirit is a powerful new force for freedom in the world today.

What we do together, as a family of free men and women, will determine what the future will be like for our children. If we're strong enough to live up to our shared values, the promise of freedom and opportunity for the New World will at long last be realized. By working together, the free people of this hemisphere can make certain that the next century will indeed be our century, a democratic century.

I've thoroughly enjoyed being with you here today. And I hope that after my attempt to pronounce a word that I stumbled over, that you won't take that honorary degree away from me, Mr. President. But, again, it's been a great pleasure. I know that I must return to Washington now. I think meetings of this kind should be a regular feature in the years ahead, and we shall look forward to that.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 2:07 p.m. in the ballroom at the Russell House Student Center. The 3-day conference was hosted by the university.

In his opening remarks, the President referred to James B. Holderman, president of the University of South Carolina, who had awarded the President the honorary degree of doctor of laws during his visit to the university on September 20, 1983, to address a convocation.

Following his remarks, the President returned to Washington, DC.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at a Summit Conference of Caribbean Heads of State at the University of South Carolina in Columbia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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