Remarks at a White House Luncheon for Delegates to the Conference on Free Elections

November 4, 1982

President Reagan. I would like to welcome all of you to the White House. It's a privilege and an inspiration to be host to this distinguished gathering.

In this room today are representatives of thriving democracies on many continents. President Monge leads one of Latin America's strongest democracies. Mr. Shehu Musa is the personal representative of President Shagari of Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and a democracy. Europe's advanced industrial democracies with traditions of representative governments stretching over generations are represented here. So, too, are Asia's new democracies. And we also welcome representatives of international parliaments: President [Jose Maria de] Areilza of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, Vice President Elles of the European Parliament, Vice President Townsend of the Latin American Parliament.

And I would also like to greet the democratic leaders who are with us in spirit -- only Prime Minister Spadolini of Italy, who could not attend this luncheon but who has sent a message of greetings in which he expressed on behalf of his people -- well, he did it, I should say, not in sending a message, in delivering a great keynote address to this gathering, which you heard. King Juan Carlos of Spain has sent a message of greetings in which he expressed, on behalf of the Spanish people and himself, support for the principles and objectives of this Conference.

And we are here today to celebrate a common vision, a vision of a world where right to self-government is openly acknowledged -- where the state is seen as not the master, but the servant of man. In particular, this Conference is concerned with free elections, the very foundation of democracy. There's no more striking symbol of democracy than the picture of a citizen casting a ballot, electing a leader, choosing his or here own destiny.

Earlier this week, elections were held here in the United States. I spent the last 2 weeks on the road working for votes and trying to understand my country's problems better. And so did thousands of candidates for local, State, and Federal offices with a wide variety of views. On Tuesday of this week, the people gave their verdict in free elections. And the process is the same in your countries.

The free flow and the open competition of ideas is the heart of our free societies. What a striking contrast this is with those nations of the world where the people have no role but must sit weakly by and wait for a small group of men to conclude their struggle for power behind closed doors and then rule without being accountable to anyone.

But there's something else that brings us together today. It's an excitement that we share about the opportunities for the spread of democracy, the sense of hope about the prospects for the future. One of my predecessors in this office shared this excitement. General Eisenhower wrote in his personal diary less than a year after the end of the Second World War, ``Our most effective security step is to develop in every country where there is any chance or opportunity a democratic form of government. To lead others to democracy we must help actively, but more than this we must be an example of the worth of democracy.'' Well, I can think of no better way to express the challenge to those of us participating in this Conference and free men everywhere than those words of Dwight Eisenhower's.

That this Conference is taking place is testimony to the growing power of democratic ideals. And their appeal has led me to suggest to the British Parliament last June that you and I live at a turning point, a moment in time, and when time and circumstance and the sound instincts of good and decent people can unite to redirect history, to bring about a new and more hopeful life for future generations.

Some may see this prognosis as too optimistic. I do not underestimate the capabilities for repression of dictatorships of either the left or the right or the devastating effect of terrorism. But the imperishable democratic ideal and the democratic movement -- these are stronger. As shown in country after country on the continents which all of you in this room represent, mankind has an unquenchable aspiration to control its own destiny.

It's our duty to speak out against the evil and the cruelty of misused state power. Unless we speak out, unless we give voice to the decent impulses of mankind and our own deepest held convictions, a kind of moral atrophy sets in, and we too may ultimately lose faith in the appeal and the power of our convictions.

This Conference is a further step in our support for the democratic movement. It's an opportunity to point out to the world that democracy gives to the people of each nation a chance to chart their own course. It's an opportunity to point out how free elections place the hand of the people firmly on the tiller of state, how the free competition of ideas at the ballot box is an invitation to stability and flexibility that is so necessary for economic and social progress, how universal suffrage is the certain route to popular support for institutions and policies, how the accountability of elected officials is the surest guarantee that the people's will is respected and that the fruits of growth will not be channeled to only a few.

All of these realizations provide a powerful antidote to those who argue that state power and armed might are the only means to social or economic progress. In case after case, we have seen the democratic states, which rely on the initiative of their own people, develop their economies and societies far further than centralized states. We must not underestimate the task that we face in supporting the growth of democracy.

Democracy cannot be imposed from outside and it frequently evolves only after patient, incremental steps. It must be the product of free institutions -- churches, labor unions, independent judiciary, and the press -- and its life-giving, rejuvenating process is a citizen placing his vote in a ballot box -- the subject of this Conference.

Your presence today already provides inspiration to those who believe in and work for democracy. I'm confident that your deliberation will be a source of new insight and wisdom. Yet, we must do more than note the lessons of the past and the challenges of the future. It is my hope that this Conference will produce not only a new commitment to freedom but a positive program for international action.

Your Excellencies and ladies and gentlemen, I wish you success in your deliberations and ask you to join me in a toast to our distinguished guests and most of all to our most prized heritage of our past and the most promising prospect for our future: personal freedom, the right to self-governing democracy.

President Monge. My dear friend, the President of the United States of America, Ronald Reagan, distinguished delegates to this Conference on Free Elections, ladies and gentlemen:

It is an immense honor for me, for my people, and for me as President of my republic to thank President Reagan for his words and also for his having convened this Conference.

So we have come to this event, an event which I consider to be of the greatest importance in the struggles of peoples for freedom and democracy. We are gathered here together, peoples from different places throughout the world, but they are all together in their identification with the ideals of democracy.

People have come here to this gathering from all corners of the world, all of them with a deep faith in democracy. In spite of adversities that might come up in each one of our countries from time to time in the struggle for democracy, we all share the deep faith that in the end there will be a triumph of democracy throughout the world.

And so this position adopted by the United States of America, through its President, of calling us here together and of establishing the theme and the title for this Conference is a position of the utmost importance for the future in our day-to-day work in defense and for development of democracy, because free elections, thanks to this clear-cut, categorical position of the United States, have been enhanced. And this is the way to promote the cause of democracy, because we cannot conceive of democracy without there being, first of all, free and fair elections in which the will of the people can be expressed as to the type of government that they choose for themselves.

And so, for those of us who want to preserve democracy and freedom for our peoples and, above all, of those for those peoples that are debating internally, that are shedding blood in the search for freedom and democracy throughout the world, the adoption of this position by the United States of America in favor of democracy in a militant and active way without a doubt will serve as a tremendous injection, a tremendous source of encouragement that we sorely needed at this time in which we are at a great and significant crossroads as far as democracy is concerned in Latin America and indeed throughout the world.

And so, this position announced by President Reagan is a sign that is very deep, that goes much deeper than what I've said already, and has an additional dimension as far as the future is concerned, because it destroys what many people have been saying, that there is a false choice and that the peoples face in their struggle for freedom that the choice is only when you have the aggression and the advances of Marxist-Leninist totalitarianism, that the only choice for that, alternative to that, is conservative military dictatorships equally oppressive of the people. And I think that the clear-cut expression of this position by the United States in favor of free elections has been irreplaceable, because it is irreplaceable as far as the development of democracy is concerned. And I think that the United States, by expressing this position, has shown that there is another choice when you are faced with the possibility of a Marxist-Leninist totalitarian system and that that choice is authentic and true democracy with freedom and social justice for the people.

And so, if democracy is going to win, as was very well said by President Reagan, we have to consider what is it that we are going to offer a small country such as ours to this cause of achieving democracy -- as I said, a country that is small. It is small in terms of population. It is small as far as territorial extension is concerned. And so, what can we do? What can this small democracy of ours do to help -- a country that has decided generations ago to disarm itself unilaterally, a country that decided on its own to abolish its own army, and that has built a democracy, a democracy which we acknowledge is not perfect. Because democracy will never be perfect, we must always seek perfection. But we must always realize that we will never achieve it and must, therefore, continue to work on it.

So, what can a small democracy, as I said, offer in this struggle of the peoples to find themselves a democratic system? I think we do have a lot to offer. It's an offer that we make with all modesty. We cannot offer any military power. We cannot offer any economic power. But we can offer the dedication and the deep vocation of a people for the cause of freedom and the cause of democracy.

And we offer an alternative that will represent the defeat of false theories that have been expressed in the past -- theories, for example, the claims of some people that have gone as far as to say that democracy is a plant that cannot grow in the tropics. And I say to you today that we are of the tropics. We are men of the tropics. And we offer this effort of many generations that have established democracy so deeply in our country so that it is deeply rooted in the minds and hearts of our own people. And we offer this to the peoples of the world who want to achieve the same democracy.

And there are others who have said that democracy is a sort of a dessert that can only be afforded by rich countries. Well, I say to you today that we are a poor country, an underdeveloped country. But we have been able to consolidate democracy in our land. And so, we reject all of those people who have been battering at us, from the military, oligarchical despots in the past who have tried to attack the democracy of our republic throughout our history. And we also reject the present attacks at the present time of Marxist-Leninist totalitarianism that is trying to break our intractable tradition and efforts in order to continue democracy among our people.

And so, at this present juncture in our history, surrounded by turbulence, surrounded by violence, there are attacks presented by the people who are the enemies of democracy. And we'd like to have the historic pretentiousness and vanity perhaps to say that yes, in spite of all the history that is past, we have a new contribution to make to this cause of democracy. And you may ask what that new contribution is. And my reply is that we reject a strategy of blackmail that is trying to seek and has achieved in some countries a division, a separation, create a distance between democracies that exist in poor and small countries and the democracies of the rich and the large countries. And this strategy has divided sometimes our efforts and has drawn our attention, has weakened our energies that should be devoted to the defense of freedom and democracy, not only in the Americas but also throughout the world.

So, this contribution is that we reject this strategy. We will not accept it. We will not be afraid, no matter what the aggressiveness is against the Goverment and the democracy of Costa Rica that is promoted by the apparatus of international communism, because we believe that we should continue to make efforts to solidify and develop all democracies throughout the world and that we will defeat the strategy of dividing the democracies of the rich and the strong from the democracies of the poor and the weak.

Thank you, President Reagan, on behalf of all of us who work for the defense of freedom and of democracy. The position adopted by your government is extremely significant, the position to which I have referred to several times during my comments. And I would dare go as far as to announce that the people of the United States will be deeply grateful, a country that has such a strong vocation for the cause of democracy and freedom, will be deeply grateful for the position that you've announced so clearly, which has done so much to help and to present the true image of the democracy of the United States of America.

Thank you.

Note: President Reagan spoke at 1:31 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. President Monge spoke in Spanish, and his remarks were translated by an interpreter.