George Bush photo

Remarks to the Council of the Americas

May 22, 1990

Thank you for that welcome, and thank you, Secretary Baker. Jim Baker's just back from a very interesting and highly significant trip to the Soviet Union, which I'm sure you've all read about. From my standpoint, it went very well indeed. I think he's done a lot of clearing the way for what I hope will be a highly successful meeting with Mr. Gorbachev not so many days away from now. I want to thank him. Normally, he's not awake this close to his jet lag recovery -- it takes him a little longer -- but he was looking forward to being here. But he had a tough and grueling trip, and it's still, I'm sure, on him. But I thank you very much for being here today.

To David Rockefeller, my friend and the chairman of the Council of the Americas, I want to thank you. David came to see me a while back and told me of the emphasis that he felt should properly be placed on Central America, South America -- the Americas -- something he's stood for for a long time. But I will address myself to some of those concerns in a minute. But I want to thank him. I want to thank Ambassador Landau and Kim Flower; and, of course, pay my respects to my trusted right arm in the White House in foreign affairs, General Brent Scowcroft, who is head of the National Security Council; to Bernie Aronson, for whom I have great respect and with whom I personally work very closely on a lot of these matters -- he, Jim and I and Brent -- matters affecting our common interests here today.

I am pleased once again to speak to this most influential group, pioneers, if you will, in the private-sector effort to expand trade investment between the United States and Latin America. I'm delighted to address this gathering after what has been a remarkable year of change.

I told a group out in Oregon yesterday, I can't think of a more fascinating time in the recent history of our country, certainly in the Nuclear Age, to be President of the United States. Over the past 12 months, it sometimes seemed that the eyes of the world rest solely on Eastern Europe, on the miraculous transformation that's taken place there. Our friends in Latin America have watched these historic events unfold with inspiration, certainly with awe, but also, I know, with an unmistakable sense of anxiety -- and it was this that David was talking to me about -- concern that our active involvement in Europe will mean a decline in the United States interest in Latin America.

I'm here today to assure you, just as I've assured the many Latin American leaders with whom I've met, that the events of the past year have increased our interests in this region, strengthened our desire to forge a new partnership with the growing forces of freedom in Latin America, because the fact is, the great drama of democracy is unfolding right here in our own hemisphere. Think about the tremendous gains made for freedom just this past year. When I spoke here last May, the people of Panama were preparing to go to the polls, even as the dictator of Panama was preparing to steal the election. And in Nicaragua, civil war raged, the Sandinistas ruled, and the brave men and women of the Nicaraguan opposition were just beginning the long campaign that led to this year's great victory for democracy.

In Central America -- Nicaragua and Panama; in South America -- Paraguay and Chile. All across the Americas, today more people live under freely elected governments than ever before; and we are closer than ever before to the day when all the people of the Americas, North and South, will live in freedom. Even in Haiti, the scene of so much human suffering and anguish and turmoil, the provisional government has now announced its intention to hold free elections. This Thursday, I will be meeting with the new leader of Haiti, where we're sure to discuss ways that we can support democracy in Haiti.

In all of Latin America, only Cuba remains -- Castro's island -- isolated, totally out of step with the democratic tide. But today we're celebrating the anniversary of Cuban independence. And let me say with certainty that even in Cuba the dream of democracy can only be pushed back a little, only deferred; it will never be destroyed.

As we in the United States welcome our Central and South American neighbors into the ranks of democracy, we must offer them our help and something more: we must offer them our respect, the respect due one free nation from another, and the outstretched hand of partnership.

I've been working with Jim and Brent and others to strengthen our ties. Just this year alone, I've met with Presidents Barco [Colombia], Paz [Bolivia], and Garcia [Peru], at the Andean drug summit in Cartagena. It was a good meeting, incidentally. Here in Washington, I've hosted Presidents Carlos Andres Perez [Venezuela], Paz Zamora, Cristiani [El Salvador], and Endara [Panama], Collor de Mello [Brazil], Calderon [Costa Rica], and Callejas [Honduras], and Prime Minister Manley [Jamaica] as well. And in each case, I've come away from our talks with a strong sense of optimism, and I believe every one of those leaders left the White House knowing that the U.S. is engaged as never before in the future of this hemisphere.

While from country to country conditions differ, we know now that our challenge is to consolidate democracy and accelerate development. That means advancing the intellectual revolution now sweeping Latin America, a movement away from stale statist doctrines; away from dictatorships of the right and the left; toward democracy, free government, free enterprise; toward the true political and economic empowerment of the people themselves.

That means encouraging, for the first time in many cases, genuine free market reform. Even in the countries that claim no kinship with communism, true free enterprise did not exist. In practice, economies were often organized to ensure the prosperity of the people in power, not to open an avenue toward upward mobility for anyone ready and willing to work.

Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto describes the maze of bureaucratic barriers that stood in the way of the entrepreneur and stifled economic growth in his country. De Soto also shows how much Lima, Peru's capital, owed its economic vitality to what he calls the informal sector, the thousands of individual and enterprising individuals doing business without the consent of the state. De Soto's prescription, and mine -- is to free this economic force, unleash the million sparks of energy and enterprise, let the incentive of reward inspire men and women to work to better themselves and their families.

Already, Latin America is discovering this path. In Brazil and Bolivia, in Argentina, Venezuela, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Jamaica, free market reforms are going forward, creating space for private initiative to take hold and flourish. And as they succeed and as they reap the rewards that will follow this -- I would say what will certainly be a painful transition -- these nations will bring others along in their wake.

We in the United States must do all we can to ensure the future of free markets in the Americas because our nation has a stake in the economic health of this hemisphere. We know that since the late seventies Latin America's share of all U.S. trade dropped from 10 percent of all U.S. exports down to 7 percent. And yet last year, for the first time ever, two-way trade between the United States and Latin America topped $100 billion. As that trade continues to grow, so will the link between our prosperity and the prosperity of our Latin American partners.

Let me provide just a few statistics to drive home this point. Last year the Colombian economy grew 3 percent; U.S. exports to Colombia rose 9 percent. Mexico's economy grew 3 percent, and U.S. exports to that country climbed 21 percent. In Chile, with an overall growth rate of 10 percent, U.S. exports increased by triple that rate -- more than 30 percentage points.

The most effective way to ensure expansion of trade between the United States and Latin America is for all countries of the hemisphere to support a successful Uruguay round. The ambitious agenda in the Uruguay round, including proposals for significant multilateral tariff reductions, will benefit our Latin American trading partners. We are committed to the expansion of trade and investment liberalization, and we seek Latin American support for these very important objectives. In addition, the strengthened debt strategy launched last spring has reinvigorated market-oriented economies and reinvigorated the reforms in Latin America. These economies help provide the needed foundation for democracy itself.

That's why I'm so pleased to report on the progress we've made this past year under the Brady plan. Mexico, Venezuela, Costa Rica have all reached agreements with their creditors on ways to reduce their debt, ways to complement their efforts to restructure their economies along free-market lines, because in the long term, the free market remains the only path to sustained growth.

We all know the private sector plays a crucial role. Taking advantage of new investment opportunities is good for business; but at this critical moment, there's something beyond the bottom line, something that can't be measured simply in terms of GNP. The role the Council of the Americas can play -- expanding trade and strengthening the private sector -- that role contributes not just to economic growth but to the growth of democracy itself.

Now, there is, of course, an important role for government to play as well, especially during the difficult days of transition from dictatorship to democracy. That's why, frankly, I've called on Congress to provide $800 million in emergency economic aid to Panama and Nicaragua. We have a big stake in this. This aid is critical.

A little over a week ago, I received a letter from President Chamorro, Violeta Chamorro, just 3 weeks into her term in office, telling me that Nicaragua was bankrupt. And yet, for more than 2 months now, this emergency aid has been bogged down on Capitol Hill. To give you an idea of the magnitude of this problem, in March I requested $800 million for Panama and Nicaragua, asking that this bill be finished on April 5th -- April 5th. It's now May 22d, and the funds for Panama and Nicaragua have been reduced by $80 million, even though $1.4 billion in extra spending has been added to this legislation. Finally, it appears the Congress may act this week on this vital measure. For the people of Nicaragua and Panama, meanwhile, democracy hangs in the balance.

So, let me again say to the Congress: The fate of freedom rests in your hands. Do the work of democracy and pass this emergency aid package now.

Today I began by speaking about the changes that have riveted world attention on Europe. Part of the power of the story is that it can be told in intensely personal terms, as the story of the dissident playwright who is now President or of the electrician who came to symbolize his people's hopes for freedom. Democracy's advance in Latin America has produced its share of heroes, and today I'll close with three from one country alone, Latin America's newest democracy, Nicaragua.

For 4 years, beginning in 1979, the year the Sandinistas took power, Enrique Dreyfus was head of Nicaragua's Supreme Council of Private Enterprise, a private-sector group in many ways similar to this one. His criticism of Sandinista rule put him on the Sandinista black list and landed him in prison. Today, with the Sandinistas swept from power, Enrique Dreyfus is not just free from persecution, he is Nicaragua's new Foreign Minister.

In 1985 members of the Sandinista internal security force beat Sofonias Cisneros for criticizing the way the Sandinistas had politicized the schools. Today Mr. Cisneros is Minister of Education.

And on July 10th, 1988, opposition leader Myriam Arguello was beaten, taken from her home in the middle of the night by Sandinista police, tried, and sentenced to 6 months in prison. Today Myriam is President of Nicaragua's freely elected National Assembly.

These three stories underscore in personal terms the truly revolutionary political change that's taken place not just in Nicaragua but across the Americas, change that proves beyond doubt that the day of the dictator is over and democracy's day has come.

For our part, we in the United States must do all we can to help secure for all the Americas the freedom, the peace, and the prosperity we enjoy. Please, keep up, more now than ever, your important work in guaranteeing that democracy succeeds in this precious hemisphere of ours. Thank you for what you're doing, and God bless the United States of America. Thank you all very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:30 a.m. in the Loy Henderson Conference Room at the Department of State. In his remarks, he referred to Secretary of State James A. Baker III; George Landau, president of the council; Ludlow Flower III, managing director of the council and vice president of the Americas Society; Brent Scowcroft, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs; and Bernard W. Aronson, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs.

George Bush, Remarks to the Council of the Americas Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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