John F. Kennedy photo

Toasts of the President and President Betancourt

February 19, 1963

Ladies and gentlemen:

I want to express our welcome to the President. I must say, in welcoming him, it gives us a chance to give some thoughts to our relations with Latin America. I think that the United States, really since Franklin Roosevelt, has almost been blind, because of its obligations elsewhere, to our relations to Latin America. We poured out our resources and our energy to rebuilding Europe, which is now rebuilt, and to providing for the security for the other areas of the world stretching all the way from South Korea around to Berlin.

We have, I think, belatedly turned to the problem of Latin America, with nearly 200 million people living in poverty in many cases, suffering from indifference's which have been the result of the United States, with the exception of the extraordinary personality of Franklin Roosevelt who had a greater influence because of what he did in the United States really than because of what he did in Latin America, but whose example in the United States, reflected all through this continent, has had even today the most extraordinary influence.

Now we have turned our attention, in a way, to Latin America, but we turn it somewhat late and we turn it with some of our resources exhausted. As I was saying to Ambassador Moscoso during dinner, we poured over $12 billion in 4 years into Europe with all of its resources in manpower, with all of it resources in materials. In the short space of 4 years under the Marshall plan, and wisely, we concentrated our energy into the rebuilding of Europe and I think the world is and will be the beneficiary.

Now we come to turning our attention to Latin America. But many of the resources that we had available are exhausted. Latin America does not have the resources and manpower which Western Europe had and doesn't have the skills Western Europe had. So, what we are able to put in the Alliance for Progress is inadequate, I think, to the task which is before us. But at least we have turned our attention there. And I think that the visit of the President of Venezuela helps remind the American people, who may be somewhat fatigued because they have gone through the European experience and gone through the experience in other areas, may be somewhat fatigued and feel that the job may be done.

Your visit, Mr. President, is a welcome reminder of the unfinished business before us in this decade. I hope that the people of the United States will maintain their interest in Latin America as well as other areas. And I think that your experience should encourage them. You symbolize, as I said today in welcoming you, all that we are interested in Latin America--you and your colleagues in Puerto Rico, in Costa Rica, in Colombia, and other areas, the liberal, progressive leaders, all of whom lived in exile, all of whom experienced great difficulties, all of whom lived under dictatorships and all of whom came to power and have attempted, under great assaults, to bring a good life to their people.

So, Mr. President, we are, and everybody in this room are, great admirers of yours. We wish the United States to be identified with leaders such as you, not only in Venezuela, in Costa Rica, in Colombia, but all through this hemisphere, liberal, progressive leaders who believe that the problems of this hemisphere can be solved in Cooperation under a system of freedom. That is the great test which is now before us. And you have been selected as target number one, not only for the dictators in the last 2 years, but also by the Communists.

And we think it most appropriate that you should be so elected. So, we are the beneficiary of your visit. I hope that your visit here to the United States will remind the people of this country that they have a good deal of unfinished business in this hemisphere, that the hope of this hemisphere lies in leaders such as yourself, that there is no quick and easy answer to all the problems that we face, that Mr. Castro can disappear and the problems will still remain.

And I am delighted particularly that there are here tonight Members of Congress who have been interested in this problem for a good many years and who will be interested in it in a good many years to come. So, I cannot think of any guest who is more welcome here, and particularly more appropriately welcomed here this week of the birthday of General Washington and President Betancourt, who was also born on Washington's birthday, and who, while not the Father of his Country, guides it through the most difficult years of its life and gives us the greatest hope.

Mr. President, we want to welcome you here and I want to assure you tonight that you are among friends. Will you join me in drinking to the President of Venezuela.

Note: The President proposed the toast at a dinner in the Private Dining Room at the White House. In his response, President Betancourt recalled that the president and Secretary Rusk had expressed in no uncertain terms that day their "very warm interpretation" of the significance of his trip to the United States. He continued by saying that he and others who would follow him as President would work together so that Latin America would become what the President so eloquently had described.

"We want to work for a serious transformation of Latin America, for a change in depth of its economic and social structures. We want to benefit our people, our people who are attacked by Soviet propaganda that is so cunningly channeled through Havana." He recalled that the prophetic voice of President Roosevelt and his Four Freedoms were welcomed warmly in Latin American countries, because the people were anxious for a life of dignity and freedom.

President Betancourt also recalled U.S. interest in developing Europe and Asia following World War II, how the Marshall plan had made German, French, and Italian "miracles" possible; that U.S. help for South Korea, Formosa, and other Asian countries were "wonderful enterprises" and "fruitful ventures." "But," he continued, "economic cooperation itself is not enough. We need and we want to develop a message of freedom. The Latin American countries and the Latin American people are both hostile to communism, but they are also hostile to military dictatorships." He noted that his administration was elected by a popular vote, that his people want and support representative government and want elections by the people.

"At the present time," he added, "we want to undertake this common task, we and the American government, to develop political democracy, the economic situation in our countries and social justice ... Castro's prestige and Castro's regime may only be accidental, but our joint efforts will have to try to make sure this accident does not take place in other countries.

"When his regime is gone, the continent will still be poor, there will still be economic underdevelopment and conditions of life may still be unacceptable, if we don't fulfill our task. Those who think like I do, do not pretend and do not claim that the United States itself can solve these problems. I believe that our own effort and our own work are extremely important and this is actually the basic philosophy of the Alliance for Progress.

"I believe that if the United States and my country and Latin America can work together for democracy, we can increase and improve the conditions of life for all of our people very rapidly. Our main objectives are economic development, social justice, and an increase in the culture and education of our people. These ideas which I hold at the present time as President of Venezuela--in less than a year I will not be President any more--I will still hold when I am out of office and the little political influence which I might have in my country and in the hemisphere I will use to foster these ideas and these ideals."

John F. Kennedy, Toasts of the President and President Betancourt Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under




Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives