Radio Address to the Nation on the Caribbean Basin Initiative

December 4, 1982

I'm speaking to you today from San Jose, Costa Rica. Later this evening, I'll return to Washington, having visited with six neighboring heads of state. Our delegation has seen firsthand the vitality and potential of our New World neighbors. We've also heard and discussed their needs and aspirations and how they affect our own vital national interests.

United States interests require that we support our fellow Americans with a hemispheric policy which preserves and promotes democratic institutions, advances and encourages free market economies, and provides the security essential for these systems to develop and flourish. In our discussions during these last 4 days, I pledged our continued commitment to work as friends and neighbors with the other nations of this Western Hemisphere. We'll stand firmly with them to achieve the promise of economic progress and political stability that is the legacy of peace in the Americas.

Through cooperation, together we can protect ourselves from counterfeit revolutionaries who seek to destroy growth and impose totalitarianism on people who love freedom. Let us remember something very important: If our neighbors, particularly our nearest neighbors in the Caribbean Basin, are in trouble, their troubles inevitably become ours, unless we work together to solve them.

Right now their difficulties are not entirely of their own making. World prices for their traditional products -- sugar, bananas, bauxite, and coffee -- have been declining sharply for several years. At the same time, the prices for their essential imports, particularly petroleum, have remained high. This worldwide recession, the longest and most severe in postwar history, has hit their economies with all the fury of the tropical storms they're exposed to each year.

We cannot afford to ignore these difficulties. Our ties with the countries of the Caribbean Basin are very close. One-half of our trade passes through this area. Prolonged social and economic disruption would cause an exodus of desperate people seeking refuge where so many others have already found it -- in the United States. The interests of Caribbean Basin countries are our interests; their security is our security.

The difficulties in the Caribbean Basin may seem overwhelming, but just as tropical storms give way to sunshine and calmer seas, economic despair will give way to optimism if people have the prospect to build a better life in freedom. Our support for democratic institutions is already helping. U.S. assistance to help these countries defend themselves from outside-supported subversion is likewise showing signs of progress. Our Caribbean Basin Initiative, designed to provide economic opportunity by stimulating investment and trade, offers the hope of economic progress, which anchors democracy and freedom.

In September the United States Congress approved funds for emergency balance-of-payments assistance as the first step in this initiative. I also attach great importance to the 1983 fiscal year package of foreign assistance. But our goal is not a temporary boost from foreign aid. Our goal is to help our neighbors strengthen democratic institutions and free economies that stand on their own. We need long-term incentives to expand production and create new jobs. The trade and investment portions of our Caribbean Basin Initiative legislation are designed to accomplish this.

I've proposed that we offer our neighbors the opportunity to trade with us freely by eliminating trade barriers for most products for 12 years, and by providing tax incentives for U.S. investment in their economies. With our markets beckoning, the inducement to expand existing enterprises and invest in new ventures will increase. This will create growth and jobs, both for Caribbean countries and for the United States.

Trade is the path to new progress for everyone. All developing countries, including ours, succeeded by expanded free enterprise at home and by increasing their trade with other countries. By helping them, we help ourselves. As their economies grow, we'll have new markets for our exports. The faster their standards of living rise, the more jobs will be created in the United States.

The impact on our own domestic industries of more goods coming from the Caribbean will be minimal, since the quantity of imports from these small countries will not be great. Moreover, our industries and our jobs will have safeguards to protect them from disruption.

Since taking office, I've held numerous discussions with Caribbean Basin leaders. They have assured me that their Caribbean Basin Initiative will provide more fuel for their private economies to be engines for lasting growth. They, too, have faith that private enterprise can flourish with the magic of the marketplace.

This initiative, I'm pleased to say, is only part of a wider undertaking in the Caribbean Basin. Canada, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela have joined us with impressive initiatives of their own. I'm asking the Congress only that we in the United States do our part by doing what we can do best -- create economic opportunity.

The leaders of the Congress have promised to give the Caribbean Basin Initiative urgent consideration during the current session. The initiative has already received substantial bipartisan support. I urge all Members of the Congress to look carefully at the benefits which the Caribbean Basin Initiative will bring to our neighbors, and to us. Final passage this year is top priority.

I'll be leaving tonight to return to Washington. I can't close without saying how impressed I've been with the leaders I've met here in the nations of South and Central America and the people. I believe we've created bonds which will serve to bring the nations and peoples of the Americas into a closer accord. These two great continents joined by the countries of Central America can be the hope of the world.

Until next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:06 a.m. from the Casa Presidencial in San Jose, Costa Rica.