John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks at the University of Costa Rica in San Jose

March 20, 1963

Mr. Rector, Mr. Minister:

I would like first to present to you my colleagues from the United States Congress who have traveled with us on this voyage of the last 3 days, and I would like to have them meet you.

First, I would like to present the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the former President of the University of Arkansas, Senator Fulbright.

I would like to present the leader of the opposition in the United States Senate, but we both agree that we love Costa Pica, Senator Hickenlooper.

The Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Latin America of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, former Dean of the University of Oregon Law School, Senator Wayne Morse.

Congressman Selden, who is Chairman of the House Committee on Latin America, Congressman Selden of Alabama.

And the Republican leader of that committee in the House of Representatives, Congressman William Mailliard.

And the United States Ambassador.

It is a great pleasure to leave Washington, where I am lectured to by professors, to come to Costa Rica where I can speak to students.

I think it is appropriate that the first speech by any United States President to any student audience in Latin America should take place at this center of learning in a nation so dedicated to democracy. And I am honored that you have invited me here today.

For the past 3 days the Presidents of seven American nations have been grappling with the central question which faces this country, my own country, and our hemisphere, and that is whether, under a system of political liberty, we can solve the economic problems that press upon our people. We are embarked upon a great adventure together, and that is the task of demonstrating to a watching world that free men can conquer the ancient enemies of man, poverty, ignorance, and hunger; of protecting freedom against those who would destroy it; of bringing hope to those who search for hope; of extending liberty to those who lack it.

This is an immense task, filled with difficulty and hardship and danger, but you have been given an opportunity to shape the destiny of man which has been given to no other generation in the last 2,000 years. And as a fellow American, I know that you welcome that responsibility and that opportunity. What Franklin Roosevelt said to the American people in the 1930's I say to you now: This generation of Americans, your generation of Americans, has a rendezvous with destiny. I am confident that you will meet that rendezvous, for I can remember my own country when it was quite different from our country today. It was not so many years ago that I was a university student as you are now, and at that time, only 1 in every 10 American farms was electrified, half the farmers in our Southland were tenant farmers and sharecroppers, thousands of families in the Tennessee Valley had cash incomes of less than $100 a year, and all this in addition to a great depression which threw 12 million men and women out of work and had 20 million Americans on relief--that in the time that I was at the university.

Then under the leadership of Franklin Roosevelt, we carried through a great New Deal for the United States. One program after another brought an end to tenant farming in the United States, electrified nearly every farm in our country, transformed the poverty ridden Tennessee Valley into one of the richest agricultural and industrial areas in the United States. It demonstrated in those great years the immense power of affirmative, free government, the power which adds the idea of social responsibility to individual liberty.

The history of your country in the last years has demonstrated that same quality. And if the task of progress with freedom is more complex, more subtle, and more difficult than the promise of .progress without freedom, we are unafraid of that challenge. We are committed to four basic principles in this hemisphere in the Alliance for Progress. The first is the right of every nation to govern itself, to be free from outside dictation and coercion, to mold its own economy and society in any fashion consistent with the will of the people.

Second is the right of every individual citizen to political liberty, the right to speak his own views, to worship God in his own way, to select the government which rules him, and to reject it when it no longer serves the need of a nation.

And third is the right to social justice, the right of every citizen to participate in the progress of his nation. This means land for the landless, and education for those who are denied their .education today in this hemisphere. It means that ancient institutions which perpetuate privilege must give way. It means that rich and poor alike must bear the burden and the opportunity of building a nation. It will not be easy to achieve social justice, but freedom cannot last without it.

And the fourth principle of the Alliance is the right of every nation to make economic progress with modern technological means. This is the job, it seems to me, of all of us in this hemisphere in this decade, all of you who have the opportunity to study at this university, and that is, as I said at the beginning, to demonstrate that we can provide a better life for our people under a system of freedom, to demonstrate that it is our adversaries who must build walls to hold their people in, who must deny their people the right not only of freedom, but economic advancement as well. It is no accident that this year in Cuba agricultural production will be 25 percent below what it was 5 years ago. The great myth of the 1950's was that through a system of communism it was possible to produce a better life for our people; through a denial of political freedom we could provide more material advances, but the fifties showed us well, in China, the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, East Berlin, and Cuba, that when you deny political and social freedom, you also deny the right to advance economically.

Gracias. I want to express the thanks of all of us to you for having us here today. Occasionally, universities are regarded as dangerous places for Presidents, and we are grateful to you for your warm welcome to all of us on this occasion. We also want to express our thanks to the people of Costa Rica. Every one of us will go home with the most profound impression of what a strong, vital people can accomplish. And I think that this journey to Costa Rica has illuminated the minds of 180 million people of what a great opportunity and privilege we have to be associated together in our common cause. Viva Costa Rica. Arriba Costa Rica. Muchas gracias.

Note: The President's opening words referred to Carlos Monge Alfaro, Rector of the University of Costa Rica, and Daniel Oduber Quirds, Foreign Minister of Costa Rica. Later he referred to United States Senators J. W. Fulbright of Arkansas, Bourke B. Hickenlooper of Iowa, and Wayne Morse of Oregon; United States Representatives Armistead I. Selden, Jr., of Alabama and William S. Mailliard of California; and Raymond Telles, United States Ambassador to Costa Rica.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks at the University of Costa Rica in San Jose Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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