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Toasts of President Reagan and President Jaime Lusinchi of Venezuela at the State Dinner

December 04, 1984

President Reagan. Good evening, and welcome to the White House.

This has been a special time for us. Today we've had the opportunity to exchange views and get to know President Lusinchi, an individual whose strength of conviction and personal bravery helped give birth to democracy in his country. Tonight we honor you, Mr. President, for what you've done, for what you're doing, and for the kind of man you are.

In this beautiful setting, the hard sacrifices of our own Founding Fathers seem so long ago, yet all of what we have has been built on the foundation they laid. President Lusinchi remembers well Venezuela's fight for political freedom. He was part of it. As a young man, he committed himself to the cause of democracy. He was arrested and tortured by the dictatorship. And, Mr. President, I'm told the beatings left welts on your back similar to the stripes of a tiger. Well, you had the spirit of a tiger, and you never gave up your ideals.

Venezuela is free today because it has people of such character. Last year you celebrated 25 years of continuous democratic government in Venezuela. Commemorating that, you said, "We have discovered that democracy and liberty go together inextricably together." It was fitting that last year was also the 200th anniversary of the birth of Simon Bolivar, a Venezuelan whose struggle gave independence to the hemisphere. Today you carry on the work of this truly all-American man. And when we say "American," we mean every one of us, from the North Slope of Alaska to the tip of Tierra del Fuego—all of us are Americans in this hemisphere.

I'd like to thank you, Mr. President, for what your country is doing for the cause of democracy in this hemisphere. Your support during the Grenada crisis was most appreciated. Your efforts in Central America and the Caribbean are of great importance to the future of freedom there. Your personal guidance to me in the years ahead will be as invaluable as it has been today.

We're proud to stand with you and to have you and your countrymen as our friends. Mr. President, you represent in so many ways, the deep ties between our two peoples. Today, instead of "Welcome," we should have said, "Welcome back," for you lived with us during your time of exile, studying medicine and working in Bellevue Hospital in New York.

As a political figure, you've been concerned about the freedom and progress of your people. As a physician, you understand human suffering. This understanding is reflected in the energetic commitment that you've made to battling the flow of narcotics through Venezuela and the Caribbean region. As you're aware, the drug abuse problem is something that your dinner partner, Nancy, and I feel strongly about. Nancy has spent many hours here trying to help the victims of drug addiction, especially young people.

For your efforts to stop illegal drugs before they reach our shore, you have our personal thanks.

Americans know there's a special spirit in Venezuela, and that spirit is hard to miss when you have Tony Armas hitting towering home runs like they were the easiest thing to do. Well, the free people of Venezuela and the United States are on the same team, and we're up to bat. So, in keeping with the lessons Tony Armas has been teaching us, let's set our sights high, work as a team, and assure democracy and improving economic well-being for all the people of the Americas.

Now, will you all join me in a toast to President Lusinchi, the people of Venezuela, and the things that we can and will accomplish together.

President Lusinchi. Mr. President, Mrs. Reagan, I understand fully that this evening, this dinner, is a homage to my country, Venezuela, a country which, taking account the difference in dimensions, has much in common with the United States. For just as the United States, it is an integrator of races, religions, and ambitions. Your country and my country, Mr. President, are both lands of possibilities. I understand this fully, and this is why I believe that both the United States and Venezuela have had a common history in the past and have for the future a common destiny.

This, in part, has made us very proud to be here and very happy to see that these Americans can organize things so well. They know so much and they understand so much that they were able even to make the climate work in favor of the beautiful reception we had this morning. And President Reagan has been very kind this evening to sit me beside your guardian angel on one side and a Venezuelan angel on the other side, Mrs. Cisnaros, who is highly representative of Venezuelan women.

I had thought to say a few words on this occasion, but your generosity and your warmth, Mr. President, have compelled me to use, before I say those words, all my old parliamentary resources. But one hesitates here on a visit of state such as mine—and I came here as head of government and President of the Republic of Venezuela—so I must say therefore, in this capacity, that we small countries seem to have cultivated somewhat the right to dissent; and discrepancy has often become the object of much worship, and disagreement with the strong has become the consolation often of the weak. At times, we disagree just to highlight the existing difference or simply to reaffirm our wish to exercise autonomous thought and action. There are many occasions to dissent, to express different views, or to celebrate coincidences. And this, also, is totally legitimate.

Even if the United States is the most powerful nation on Earth, besides holding diverging views, we also find with you many convergences and totally legitimate ones, as well. And I must say this very frankly, proudly, and candidly. In a ceremony such as the present one, I think it is much more intelligent, much more human, to highlight, rather, all that unites us, all that identifies us to each other and leave aside what might have been something that can separate this great world power from a country such as ours, cognizant of its dimensions and its possibilities.

Permit me to leave aside thoughts on important substance matters. I do not want to run the risk of appearing solemn when it would be out of place to do so. I am not a declared enemy of solemnity itself, but I do believe it must be exercised on appropriate occasions. Some people never depart from it and yearn to appear solemn every single hour and minute of their lives. I'm happy to say that this is neither your case, Mr. President, or mine. And, in part, this is because both of us are common men. In some way, must one become, after all, eligible for the benevolence of history, even if it is to be through the exercise of discretion.

I have come to the United States and to this mansion of Presidents as a spokesman and representative of a country and a people friendly to the United States. I have come to express our views on bilateral issues of two friendly nations—on issues of our hemisphere, we cannot and shall not be indifferent to and on world issues on which we Venezuelans do not exert much influence, but which affect us to a high degree.

The biggest pride of Venezuelans is perhaps to feel that we are a country that holds no prejudices, no dogmas, no intolerances. And I say this to you—I've said it to you, Mrs. Reagan, with great pride during this dinner—and I believe that this is what makes us firmly believe, in part, that in spite of our backwardness in some economic and social areas, we are a country the future will favor, perhaps because the future lies for those who, as ourselves, show an open mind and a willing heart.

I said before that all work today to make this a beautiful celebration for me, and even the fact that a year ago—it is just a year ago that I won elections, Mr. President, by as large a landslide as you did. [Laughter] And there is something even more important, because in our case, we even got all the votes of your Minnesota. [Laughter] So, today we have really given to us a great present—you have been so kind, you have shown to us so much graciousness. Your words have been so pleasant, you have given me the occasion to speak to your beautiful and distinguished wife, beautiful representative of American Women we much admire.

And so, allow me also to take this occasion of having many common friends with us to congratulate you here, Mr. President, on your electoral victory and to wish you an extraordinary second term. The Government, all the people of the United States, hope to get from you and as citizen of the world, all the contribution you and your country can make to peace, solidarity, a better living for all the people of this planet.

I know that you are an actor, but please allow me to be the first one to say something you told me this morning. Allow me the privilege of being your reporter tonight. You told me as we got down from the rostrum that when you started to speak—after both of us made the speeches this morning to your country, to my country, and to the world that had wanted, perhaps, to listen to us—you said that you had in the pocket of your overcoat the speech you had pronounced for the Duke of Luxembourg and that you had not used this overcoat until today. My speech, you had it in the pocket of your jacket. So, today I was almost called "Your Highness." I certainly do not have any special ambitions to be royalty, but I just wonder, the faces of the Venezuelans if they had heard this. [Laughter]

Mr. President, allow me again to thank you for this beautiful reception, for your kindness, and also for having invited distinguished friends of yours, people you love, and friends of mine—people who are of great value and precious to my own country, Venezuela. And allow me to exemplify and identify all of these fellow countrymen of mine with the name of Marisol Escobar, a famous sculptress who forged the image of the liberator, Simon Bolivar, and left this image at the United Nations forever in time.

Thank you again, Mr. President, Mrs. Reagan. You have in me, be assured of the fact, a loyal and sincere friend who admires you, esteems you; a friend good enough to dissent with you and to applaud at the same time all your kindness, your good will, and your good heart.

Thank you.

Note: President Reagan spoke at 9:55 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House. President Lusinchi spoke in Spanish, and his remarks were translated by an interpreter.

Ronald Reagan, Toasts of President Reagan and President Jaime Lusinchi of Venezuela at the State Dinner Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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