George Bush photo

Remarks to the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in New Orleans, Louisiana

September 08, 1989

Thank you, President Abel Quintela -- two Odessa boys on the same platform. [Laughter] I'm delighted to be here, glad to know from your president that this has been a highly successful meeting of the chamber. I'm proud to salute Abel for the job he has done and then to pay my respects to Lupe Garcia, who's the incoming president. Texas seems to have a lock on this organization for a -- [applause] -- and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that I'm very pleased our Secretary of the Interior, our friend and yours, certainly, Manuel Lujan, is with us today. You see -- where is he? And I'm proud to say that, along with Larry Cavazos, we have two Hispanic Americans in the Cabinet of the President of the United States, and that's a very good thing for our country.

I want to thank the Governor of the State of Louisiana, Buddy Roemer, my friend of longstanding, for being with us here today. We have two Congressmen from out and about, Congressman Holloway and Congressman Tauzin, who are with us over here. I'd like to ask them to stand up. And right close in, Congresswoman Lindy Boggs over here. And then, a man with whom I work very closely in the Congress and for whom I have great respect, also from the metropolitan New Orleans area -- Bob Livingston, a Member of Congress here.

And also, Abel was telling me about the fact that this really is a hands-across-the-border meeting, and I should salute Dr. Ugarte from Mexico, the Under Secretary of Commerce who is with us today, and also Jose Maria Alverde, the president of the largest chamber of commerce in the world, I believe. He's head of the Mexican chamber of commerce from Mexico City, and we are honored to have them with us here today. So, we do meet as vecinos, neighbors, and as businessmen and businesswomen as well; but mostly, perhaps, as citizens who understand how Hispanics have helped America create a greater land for all of us.

You know, 9 years ago, America began what has been called the decade of the Hispanic. And now, at the decade's end, Hispanics are one of America's fastest growing minorities, enriching our country socially, academically, economically, spiritually and living, more than ever, the American dream. I've been to many such meetings of the chamber. And every time I come here, I realize that what I just said is true: The American dream -- you epitomize it for me in so many ways.

You know, in one sense, the past decade has reaffirmed that dream: the dream which brought your parents and your grandparents and then, indeed, some of you here in this room to this country. For today you are building, building a better life, and building it in the schools, the police forces, the small and large businesses all across society, building it for your kids -- I've got 11 grandchildren -- for our grandchildren. I'm old enough to have grandkids. Some of the rest of you young guys here -- it's your kids. For us, it's grandchildren, but what I'm saying is for everybody.

In another sense, the past decade is but a preview of coming attractions. For it can be a gateway to tomorrow, much as America has been a gateway to many of you in this room. And the theme of this convention is "Gateway to the Americas." And today it's the gateways that I'd like to talk to you about -- gateways to prosperity and stability that make progress possible.

First, the gateway to prosperity is -- and you understand this -- the free enterprise system which fosters equal opportunity. Winston Churchill noted that some people view "private enterprise as a predatory tiger to be shot; others look on it as a cow they can milk. Only a handful see private enterprise for what it really is: the strong and willing horse that pulls the whole cart along." Now, Churchill spoke those words at the end of his career, 1959; but in 1989 they're truer than ever before.

I'm always reminded of the Commissioner of Patents of the United States Government, back around 1900, who suggested that the Patent Office be closed because everything worthwhile had already been invented. Then you think of Marconi inventing the wireless; or the Wright brothers, the airplane; or going to the Moon; or whatever, and you wonder what this guy was thinking of back there. But as you know, the gateway isn't highly concentrated government bureaucracies; it isn't bigger government; it's bigger dreams.

Look at Pedro Garza, a former migrant worker who overcame disability to own a construction company -- $4.5 million in sales; Remedios Diaz-Oliver -- with us here, I believe -- here she is -- Remedios, Hispanic Businesswoman of the Year; or the father-and-son team, Louis and Fred Ruiz, who in 1964 started a food business in an old warehouse -- battered stove, small freezer, single mixer -- they now employ 534 workers. And they prove, as you do, that while government can encourage opportunity, it is Americans who seize opportunity.

Over the past decade, committed individuals like these -- and then a million others of unsung Hispanic-Americans -- have made big dreams come true for themselves and for so many others. Here's a partial scorecard of your success. Since 1980, according to your estimates, Hispanic-American-owned businesses have nearly doubled -- that's in this decade, 9 years. And today the total -- more than 400,000 and earn revenues about $20 billion in 1987 alone. Impressive? Of course, you bet. Good enough? No, never. For as long as one Hispanic-American is bereft of hope, that is one American too many.

And so, as we work to extend the prosperity that blesses our country today, all citizens must participate. Government can play a unique role as a catalyst for opportunity. As Vice President, I supported -- and I know many in this room did -- the President's Task Force on Private Sector Initiatives. And knowing how cooperation can spur development, we've tried to build on what the preceding administration fostered. I've asked Commerce Secretary Bob Mosbacher and Ken Bolton [Director of the Minority Business Development Agency] to develop a bold and innovative strategy for the reinvigoration of the Minority Business Development Agency. Every linkage between corporate America and a minority vendor and educational institution in the minority population brings us one step closer to assuring the equal participation of all Americans in our free enterprise system.

These partnerships will aid the shop- owner in Los Angeles or the small developer in Des Moines. And so will one final project that I'd like to mention here: the 1990 census. You might say, "Why?" Look, there are 19.5 million Hispanic Americans, approximately -- 19.5 million. And I urge you to do your best to make them count. Tell your friends and neighbors to cooperate with census officials. Don't let the decade of the Hispanic go unreflected in this very important national survey. So, remember, the more accurate the census is, the greater Hispanics' influence and ability to help people help themselves.

I've talked of the prosperity which can better the lives of every American. And in that context, let me just say a word about our relationship with Mexico. The first head of state that I met after the election, after I was elected -- indeed, after his -- was President Salinas. And 2 months ago, I was pleased to renew what I can tell you is a genuine friendship now, at that economic summit in Paris. Mexico, by restructuring her economy, reducing trade barriers, and then with our help, reaching agreement with her commercial bank creditors, has opened the gateway of increased trade with America. We welcome this commerce, for Mexico is -- and most Americans don't know this -- our third-largest trading partner.

I salute President Salinas for his leadership on this Mexican debt problem. It's a tough problem, and he made some very difficult decisions. He led the way. He was out front. Mexico was the first country to achieve agreement on these major debt problems that are lingering out there, and I think that his leadership has paved the way for other countries. And so, I salute him here today, with many of his friends and colleagues in this audience. I look forward to next month's state visit, and we will give him the honors that a good friend, Mexico, merits and honors. We will give him those honors on the White House lawn. And together, we can build a gateway to the 1990's that will provide both Mexico and America with economic opportunity and stability. We must never take our friends for granted.

Now, I would be remiss if I didn't take a couple of minutes more -- I know you're starving out there, I can tell -- [laughter] -- the look on the faces -- but if I didn't take a couple of minutes more to talk about another kind of trade. You know what it is -- a more destructive kind of trade that slams shut the gateways of opportunity. And, of course, I'm talking about the drug trade.

Consider these statistics: Last year the Government estimated that 23 million Americans used illegal drugs on a "current" basis; that is, at least once in the preceding 30 days. Last year more than 8 million people used cocaine, and almost 1 million used it once a week or more. Last year hundreds of thousands of babies were born to mothers who use drugs -- babies born desperately sick, weeks or months premature. A nation with those numbers cannot long preserve its very soul. And that's why, three nights ago, I announced America's first national, comprehensive, and coordinated strategy to wage unconditional war against the scourge of drugs. And we've got four major elements in this plan.

First, enforcement, using our laws and criminal justice system -- for America must take back its streets. We need more jails and prisons and courts and prosecutors and, indeed, in my view, tougher sentences. Drug dealers deserve a gateway, but that gateway is one where they go to prison. And I still feel in my heart, for the ultimate drug violators, those that do the most to corrupt the kids in this country and strip them of every chance at a meaningful life -- I'm talking about those drug kingpins or those that kill police officers -- I strongly favor the ultimate sentence, and that is the death penalty.

In that context, I sent my crime package, encompassing these things I've mentioned and others, to the Congress 3 months ago. That package went up 3 months ago, and it has languished there in the Senate Judiciary Committee. So, please, urge the Congress to pass this anticrime package. There's no reason to wait any longer to move forward with this part of the national strategy.

The second part of our drug plan is interdiction, a tool of foreign policy. Working with other governments -- and I might again salute Mexico; cooperation has increased demonstrably there -- we're going to break the international drug rings who grow and process cocaine and crack.

And again, I'd like to say here, with friends from Colombia -- many of us have friends in Colombia -- that I salute what President Virgilio Barco is trying to do. You talk about a tough, tough climate in which to take action; but he's taken it, and I'm praying he will stay with it. And the United States must give him the support that he needs.

It's not all muscle -- the program, the national strategy. There's a third part: treatment to help addicts who want to get clean, with special emphasis on expectant mothers. And finally, our drug program aims to stop use before it starts -- education and prevention -- from grade school to graduate school.

I was talking with Chief of Staff John Sununu and Governor Roemer coming in. And the news, as I pointed out the other night, isn't all bad. Casual use of cocaine is down by about a third. We can change things in this country. Peer group pressure is changing in the universities and in some of the high schools in this country. And if we all pitch in, we can see that it changes even more. This plan can help stop the trade I spoke of earlier. Some trade builds lives; drug trade takes lives. And it is the drug trade we've got to stop. Nobody, nobody, believes it will be easy.

Tuesday night I proposed this strategy to end drug use and trafficking. And we're proposing a drug budget totaling about $8 billion -- a dramatic increase over the figure that was used in the House of Representatives just this spring, the largest increase in history. And I know already there are some who criticize. Not tough enough, they claim. They say that we aren't spending enough. Well, those who judge this strategy by its pricetag, by pricetag alone, don't understand the problem. Let me repeat: This is an $8 billion program with record funding increases, a program that is comprehensive and touches every aspect of the drug problem.

And those critics are the same ones who complain they don't know how we can fund the proposal unless, of course -- one easy answer -- that some think is easy -- raising taxes. And I know and the American people know that to some the first and only answer is to hit the working man or woman with more taxes. And that is not the right answer. I have sent to the Congress specific offsets. When you hear this debate rage, we have sent suggested specific offsets to fund this strategy without raising taxes or without increasing the deficit. And all the critics have to do now is to go out and implement it.

Government is going to do its part, but government will not win this battle alone. This isn't a Federal problem; it's a national problem. And we're all in it together -- cops to teachers, parents to clergymen. And we'll have to fight together to crush the drug menace at every turn, fighting in the barrios and the boardrooms, cities and in the towns, winning it kid by kid, human life by human life, house by house, neighborhood by neighborhood, putting the emphasis where the problem is -- locally, in the community.

Fellow parents and businessmen, fellow Americans, that's where you come in. For drug use isn't merely statistics: It's the young kid tormented by cocaine addiction or the pregnant mothers whose use of crack impairs her child, perhaps for life. At stake is the very future of every community, and the Hispanic community is no different. At stake is the future of the Hispanic community, and I'm referring to our kids, of course.

And so, let me challenge you: Get involved. There are so many who need your help. Join the grassroots groups like the Miami coalition of leaders from business, education, government, and law enforcement to stop drug use. Take the time to really know your neighborhood, at home and at work. Help your church and antidrug parents' groups. Support drug programs in your childrens' schools. Look at New Orleans, for an example -- drug-free zone concept. It is working, and can work anywhere in the country.

And then I talk about a Thousand Points of Light. People have finally gotten the message. It isn't a thousand pints of Lite I am talking about. [Laughter] It is a Thousand Points of Light, and I talked about that just a year ago here in the Superdome, and I feel strongly about it. I feel more strongly about one neighbor helping another, the need for you to be involved in the life of another -- constructive involvement in the lives of others. So, do this with your business. Use it as a storefront against drugs. Put the banners up and the brochures. Don't let the cynics disturb you -- those that think everything has to come out of Washington. Employ volunteer counselors. Be a symbol in the community and, especially, for its kids. And join the ranks of caring and committed and help us win this crusade.

So, I guess my question is: Will you enlist? I believe you will. And I'll tell you why I feel so strongly about it in this audience: Because I know of your values of family; religion; and above all, your commitment to freedom that has brought many of you to this country. That's going to compel you to get involved.

I think I understand Hispanic America. I've got lots to learn, but I think I understand. And the roots run deep, and the aspirations run high. And its people ask not the promise of success, only the opportunity to succeed. And Hispanic America is at her best when the challenge is the toughest. So, together, let's open those gateways to prosperity and stability, build for our children a better tomorrow. The kids: they're the trustees of America's future, so let their horizons touch the sky.

I appreciate your kindness. You have this wonderful way of making me feel at home. I appreciate the chance to share this occasion. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America. Thank you very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:57 a.m. in the Imperial Ballroom at the Fairmont Hotel.

George Bush, Remarks to the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in New Orleans, Louisiana Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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