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Written Responses to Questions on Central America Submitted by Radio Marti

June 09, 1986

Aid to the Nicaraguan Contras

Q. Mr. President, the Cuban Government says that the United States is conducting imperialist aggression against the legitimate government of Nicaragua. What is your reaction to this charge?

The President. Well, if I were not as used to the extravagant claims of Cuban propaganda as I am, I would be outraged by such a charge. First of all, there are no U.S. forces in Nicaragua, but there are several thousand Cubans there. So, it makes you wonder who might be the real imperialists; that's not even to mention the Soviets or the Bulgarians or the Czechs or the East Germans or the Vietnamese or the North Koreans or the PLO or the Libyans or the Iranians. Does anyone really believe that these people are in Nicaragua to help them harvest their coffee crop?

What we are doing is supporting democracy in Nicaragua and all the people who seek to build it. They're the real revolutionaries. They joined the popular effort to overthrow Somoza, but then they saw their democratic revolution betrayed. What we're witnessing is very much a repetition of the betrayal of the Cuban revolution by the Communists. In each case the reins of power were seized by a well-organized, disciplined minority of Communists who liquidated the genuine democrats.

They do not rule by the people's consent. They are militarizing and regimenting Nicaraguan society because they fear the power of the real democratic revolution, still very much alive. The people are joining a spontaneous uprising against the Sandinistas, an uprising which today has more than twice as many guerrillas as did the Sandinista movement when it was fighting Somoza. The Nicaraguan democrats have organized themselves into an effective movement. All they need is enough material support to compete with the vast quantities of arms supplied to the Sandinistas by Cuba and the Soviet bloc. By the way, they should not be called Sandinistas—they've stolen the name of a true national leader who, in fact, rejected communism. What they really are, in truth, are Stalinistas because their revolution is a Stalinist one.

Q. Why do you disagree with some Members of Congress who are urging you to delay any further aid to the Nicaraguan resistance and to seek a solution through negotiations?

The President. In the first place, there's no truce in the fighting because the Communist regime feels that it can achieve its objectives without peaceful negotiations with the democratic opposition and by delaying negotiations with its Central American neighbors. It should be clear to everyone that the Sandinista strategy is to delay. The longer they can drag out negotiations, the easier it is for them to destroy the democratic forces while Congress waits to see if a peace treaty is just around the corner. But with each day of delay, the Communists are attacking and killing freedom fighters while we deny them the means even to defend themselves.

Since the March 19th vote in Congress denying aid to the resistance, the Sandinistas have used the delay to move to consolidate their totalitarian control over society. They have increased their militarization of the country, invaded Honduras, and launched an unprovoked attack on a number of Miskito Indian villages. That attack triggered a panic that led to an exodus of 11,800 villagers to Honduras. The regime has forced thousands of small businessmen to shut down. And the persecution of the church continues every day. Didn't Cardinal Obando y Bravo just say that the Communists were suffocating the church? Unless we help those who are resisting these crimes against the Nicaraguan people, we will share responsibility for the increasing toll of human suffering. Any further delay by us just plays into the hands of the Communists and their stalling tactics.

We have never shied away from negotiations as a solution, but we would want them to result in a real democracy in Nicaragua in which all sectors of the Nicaraguan society are really free to participate. We have always supported a dialog of reconciliation and believe that this is the answer. President Duarte has taken the courageous step of reopening talks with the armed and unarmed opposition in his country—why can't the Sandinistas? Are they afraid that these talks would lead to the real, democratic outcome we all hope to achieve? Are they worried that they would result in real arms reductions and the elimination of their Soviet, Cuban, and other Soviet-bloc advisers?


Q. Two years ago American and east Caribbean forces liberated Grenada from a Cuban-backed Communist government. What have been the long-range results of this precedent-setting joint military action?

The President. For one, the discoveries we made in Grenada itself were an eye-opener. We knew of the violence in Grenada and of that island's growing ties with Cuba, the Soviet Union, and the international Communist movement. But it wasn't until our boys went down to rescue the American students there that we realized how bad things had become for the Grenadian people. Their country had been turned into a base for Soviet-Cuban expansionism in our hemisphere. And while constructing this garrison state, the Communists were destroying everything that benefited the people: the consumer economy, basic individual freedoms and rights, schools and even churches. Everything was politicized. You couldn't do anything or go anywhere without being surrounded by Marxist-Leninist ideology.

The experience of the Grenadian people—descending into communism and then emerging to breathe freely again—is the unique feature of events on that island. Never before has an entire country made that journey. Individuals who successfully escaped communism have, but never a country. What a wonderful sight it is to see the exhilaration of people who have regained their freedom; to see people thrill once again at the chance of choosing their own leaders through free elections.

But there's still more significance in this episode. It was the first time in history that a Communist regime, having consolidated totalitarian control, was replaced by a democracy. The world has now seen the proof—the old idea that communism is irreversible is itself being reversed. Communism is not the wave of the future. The future belongs to those people who are free to choose their own destiny. That's why we believe that democracy has the brightest future of all.

Cuban Role in Regional Conflicts

Q. Mr. President, before your Geneva summit with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, you delivered a major speech at the United Nations in which you referred to five regional conflicts which were of major concern to the United States. Cuba is militarily involved in three of them: Angola, Ethiopia, and Nicaragua. Do you believe that your general policy of supporting the forces of freedom in these conflicts increased the danger of conflict between the United States and Cuba?

The President. No, I don't. The real conflict going on in each of those countries is between the Communist dictatorship and free people fighting to regain liberty for their entire country. None of these dictatorships could stand on their own without the massive intervention of Cuban troops and advisers sent as mercenaries for the Soviet Union. This intervention has placed innocent Cuban soldiers in the midst of other people's battles, and their lives are at great risk.

The United States would like to see these battles come to an end as quickly as possible, with freedom replacing dictatorship. That's why we support freedom fighters in each of these countries; indeed, in all countries. But we have no intention to get involved directly in any of these conflicts ourselves.

Today the freedom movements in Nicaragua and Angola are so strong that, if it weren't for the intervention of Cuban and other foreign forces, they could win all by themselves. Innocent Cuban soldiers are in a trap, and many may have to give their lives if they are forced by their government to stand in the way of these freedom movements. We deeply regret that Cuban families may suffer because their government insists on waging war in faraway lands.

Cuba-U.S. Relations

Q. Since January 1961 the United States has not maintained diplomatic relations with Cuba. Throughout this period, the Cuban Government has pursued a policy of hostility toward the United States and has kept the Cuban populace in a military state of preparedness under the supposed threat of U.S. military intervention. Do the Cuban people have anything to fear from the United States?

The President. To the contrary. I would hope that the Cuban people would look at the United States as their friend and moral supporter. Unfortunately, they have been subjected to all sorts of propaganda about the supposedly aggressive intentions of the United States. In particular, the Cuban Government has used propaganda to blame my administration for the frequent defense mobilizations in Cuba and for the increasing militarization of Cuban society. But these mobilizations began before I was even nominated to be President. And they're nothing but false alarms. The Cuban Government is using the so-called American threat as an excuse to maintain its de facto martial law. So long as it has such an excuse, it can maintain a military-style system of authority that reaches into every household in Cuba. This, I suspect, is the way that the Government keeps control over the force that it fears most of all: the free will of the Cuban people themselves. The Government fears a free election. It knows that never in history has the full majority of a free electorate elected a Communist Party to power in any major nation.

Q. Mr. President, what conditions do you think are necessary to improve relations between the United States and Cuba?

The President. America's relations with Cuba will improve on the day that Cuba stops exporting violence, stops exporting terror, and stops facilitating the trafficking of drugs. These conditions are simple. The Cuban Government must begin to respect the rules of international life. It must, in effect, start to live by the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

At the time of the Cuban missile crisis, President Kennedy stated that there would be peace in the hemisphere if the nuclear missiles were removed and Cuba stopped exporting revolution. The Soviets removed the missiles, but Cuba never did stop its subversive activities in the region. And these activities were not just a problem for the United States. They were a threat to countries throughout Latin America. That's why the Organization of American States expelled Cuba. Cuba still isn't a member, and it won't be until it begins to behave like a good neighbor. Likewise, there cannot be good relations between the United States and Cuba until Cuba remembers the Golden Rule.

Imagine if we did to Cuba what it does to us and its other neighbors. Many Cuban parents would be heartsick over their children destroying their own lives with addictive drugs. Cuban towns would actually live in fear of attack by well-armed guerrillas. We do not want these things for the Cuban people. And so, we do not do these things to Cuba. Why does the Cuban Government do such things to its neighbors?

Q. When Radio Marti broadcasts began 1 year ago, the Cuban Government unilaterally suspended an immigration agreement with the United States and curtailed exile visits to the island. Critics have charged that the decision to establish Radio Marti is keeping Cuban families apart. Do you feel that broadcasting by Radio Marti prevents the reunification of Cuban families?

The President. No, I don't think so. It is the sincere wish of the United States to see Cuban families reunited. This was one of the key points in the U.S.-Cuban immigration agreement. But that agreement was suspended by the Cuban Government when Radio Marti went on the air. It was not Radio Marti that suspended reunification, it was the arbitrary decision of the Cuban Government, made with an eye to getting us to stop broadcasting the truth about Cuba.

In fact, we've learned many times from Communist refugees about the problem of whether to keep silent about Communist human rights violations in the hope that these regimes will release people and reunite families. We've learned that if we're silent, the Communists would have a perpetual lever to enforce this silence—they could always hold people hostage to prevent the truth about the regime from being told. We can never accept such a situation. The truth as an instrument for the protection of human rights is too precious for us ever to relinquish it.

Q. What role can the free flow of information, especially international radio broadcasting, play in developing mutual understanding between the United States and the Cuban people?

The President. We, in America, believe the free flow of information and ideas is one of the most important rights that a people can enjoy. And if people know the truth, if they can learn the facts of a situation, their common sense will help them reach good decisions on how to run their lives. Truth is indispensable to a free society. Where people cannot know the truth, a ruler can manipulate them into taking actions that they otherwise would not take on their own.

Thus, the absence of truth can damage the prospects for peace. If the Cuban people learn the truth about the United States, they will see that we are their friends and not their enemies. They will see that we are interested in peace and not war and prosperity for all and not poverty. This can only increase mutual understanding, which can only advance the cause of real peace. Radio Marti will help the Cuban people know the truth. It provides information being denied them by the Government. It was specifically for this reason that the radio bears the name of Jose Marti, one of the great champions of freedom of expression throughout the Americas.

Radio Marti has another purpose as well: to help the Cuban people communicate with each other. So long as the Government maintains a monopoly of information and total control over all the means of communication, the society will be fragmented and atomized. When people cannot communicate with each other, they find it hard to trust each other. So long as people are split apart and live in fear and mistrust, they can be easily dominated and manipulated. Radio Marti can help the Cuban people avoid such a trap. It can serve as a transmission belt of ideas and information for the Cuban people themselves.

Q. The United States has committed itself to helping the Nicaraguan people realize their dream of democracy. But what can it do to help the Cuban people achieve the same dream?

The President. That's a difficult question. We want very much to see democracy in a free Cuba. A democratic Cuba would be a country at peace with itself and at peace with its neighbors. Democracies do not wage war on their neighbors. Democracies are always more peacefully inclined than totalitarian dictatorships because the people can restrain the excesses of their leaders. But however strong and deep our affinity for the Cuban people, we cannot solve their problems. What we can do is offer the Cuban people a beacon of hope by standing up for ideals we cherish: freedom, unconditional individual human rights, and equal justice under law and by standing by your friends and allies in the world who share these ideals. We also have an obligation to resist those ideas and forces, such as communism, which encroach on democratic ideals and destroy democratic societies.

If we're successful in resisting Soviet and Cuban expansionism, which we have been, we can show the world that communism can be resisted. And if the people living under communism can see this, they will know that there is hope. And if people have hope, then they can avoid becoming demoralized and paralyzed. They can learn that the future can be in their own hands, that it hasn't been completely taken away from them.

Q. Would you like to send a personal message to our listeners in Cuba?

The President. Yes, I would. I would like you, the Cuban people, to know of America's deep and abiding respect for you and your contribution to Western civilization. There is a great number of your fellow Cubans in the United States whose hard work is making our country a better place. In fact, the city with the largest Cuban population outside Cuba is here in the United States—the city of Miami. Thousands of you have family members living here. Your relatives are part of the heart and soul of our nation. It is my hope and prayer that the barriers separating you will someday be torn down.

That day will come when our relations with your country can be reestablished on the basis of the historic tradition, which has guided both nations. Americans fought for your independence, and Cuban battalions fought for our independence. One of George Washington's close friends was Juan de Miralles, a Cuban maritime businessman, who helped guarantee the credit notes for the purchase of arms and supplies for the American rebels. His wife, Dona Maria Josefa, and other Cuban women even sacrificed their jewelry to raise funds for American independence. It was this kind of devotion to the principles of our cause that won Miralles the highest regard of Washington, the father of our country.

I believe that the new day will come when U.S.-Cuban relations, based on the ideals of democracy, will be restored. The philosophical foundation of these relations already exists in the hearts of the Cuban people. We see them most dramatically expressed in the courage of the plantados, the men who will not sell their souls to gain greater creature comforts in the Cuban gulag. It is this principled devotion to the truth—not the so-called truth of the Communist Party but the real truth as revealed to man in his soul—that will be the source of that new day and a new era of peace between our nations. I hope and pray that this day will come soon.

God bless you.

Note: The questions and answers were released by the Office of the Press Secretary on June 20. Radio Marti was broadcast by the United States Information Agency.

Ronald Reagan, Written Responses to Questions on Central America Submitted by Radio Marti Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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