Remarks on the Caribbean Basin Initiative to the Ambassadors of Member Nations of the Organization of American States

December 22, 1982

I'm delighted to welcome all of you distinguished members from the diplomatic community and the other honored guests who are here with us.

I want to report to you today on the status of our Caribbean Basin Initiative. This initiative is part of America's contribution to a collective partnership for peace, prosperity, and democracy in the Caribbean and Central America. And as you know, I recently traveled to South and Central America. The reception I received convinced me even more of the vital importance to all of us of the well-being, the independence, and the security of the nations of the Caribbean Basin and, indeed, the entire hemisphere.

My conversations with the Presidents of five Caribbean Basin countries were particularly inspirational and helpful. We face common economic problems of deficits, slow growth, idle capacity, and high debts, and common threats of insurgencies supported by Cuba and other Soviet satellites.

I was impressed most, though, by the bright prospects for the future. Great advances were made over the previous two decades in economic growth, in developing and diversifying industrial and agricultural production, improving health services and education. I'm convinced that the hemisphere will continue this trend of strong growth and improvement.

The promise of the New World remains bright. We have great resources and dynamic peoples. Prosperity strengthens democracy. Throughout the hemisphere, democracy is on the move. Nearly all the governments in the Caribbean Basin are now democracies. Freedom and respect for human rights gives the fullest expression to the meaning of life, and democracy also advances peace. Democracies live easier with each other. Freedom is not a source of aggression; it can't be imposed like totalitarian philosophies by force and repression.

I found in my talks just recently on this trip to South America how few of us have stopped to think that this hemisphere and these two great continents, linked as they are by Central America, have probably known a longer period of peace than almost any other area of the world, and maybe it's because no matter which country we come from, our forebears all came here from someplace else looking for the same thing -- opportunity and freedom. And as we grow closer to each other, more neighborly, we can become a force for good in the world more than anyone could dream at this time.

I sought to explain our policies, and I found support for them: to strengthen the practice of democracy and the respect for human rights; to continue support for the San Jose peace process to reduce tensions and conflict in Central America; to provide limited assistance to help small countries struggling for democracy to defend themselves against foreign-supported insurgents or terrorists determined to impose their own totalitarian ideas; to support the integrity of an open and free trading system which is vital to the prosperity of all the peoples of this hemisphere; to help countries trying to work through financial crises and who are adopting adjustment programs in hard times just as we're doing.

I'm pleased that we now have substantial agreement on the important elements of a replenishment of the Inter-American Development Bank. This includes an overall lending program of $13 billion, an acceptable level of concessionary financing, and a new intermediate financial facility. And of course the Caribbean Basin Initiative is a central and critical feature of this policy. Its importance was underscored by everyone I met.

I promised that my administration would do its best to gain passage of the free trade and investment proposals in the initiative in this session of Congress. Now this is not a ``made-in-the-U.S.A.'' product. We in the Americas have all contributed our ideas, our resources, and our strong efforts to create this bold appproach to development, a positive program rooted in self-help and a private initiative through which we and our neighbors can assist each other.

Now, let me report on where that effort stands and what lies ahead. The aid portion of the program is an accomplished fact. The other part, having to do with trade and investment, is still in the legislative process, I'm sorry to say. Because of procedural maneuvering by a small minority of opponents, it has been difficult to bring that part of the CBI legislation to a floor vote in the Senate, where a clear majority would have supported passage.

But what I want you to know is that the Caribbean Basin Initiative will not die. The tremendous efforts that the leaders of your countries have put into this bill will not be in vain. It was your leaders who were most responsible for capturing the attention of one of this country's most able legislators, Dan Rostenkowski. He turned his skills toward passage of the CBI in this short, lameduck session and was able to produce an overwhelming vote of 260 to 142 in the House of Representatives. Working together, I'm sure that we can count on his leadership again when the session resumes next -- or the new Congress comes in next year.

I know we can also count on the strong and able support of Senator Dole. I'm personally determined to see the CBI through. This initiative is close to my heart. It is my highest priority. It proposes the right measures to help our neighbors through this difficult period. More important, it can help open the door on to the kind of future our neighbors have a right to expect.

The CBI will be among the very first pieces of legislation that I submit to the 98th Congress next year. The time is short, the needs are great, but we'll win this fight, because there's no acceptable alternative. Together we're a tremendous force for good. We'll show the world that we conquer fear with faith, that we overcome poverty through growth, and that we counter violence with opportunity and freedom.

And, so saying, that's all that I have to say, except a thank you to all of you who have helped so hard in trying to get this passed through the legislature in this session. I thank you for your efforts in the past. I wish I could say that's all that we have to now do. But I'll just consider that you're going to be just as active and working just as hard in the near future when the holidays are over and the Congress is back in session.

Thank you all, again, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 3:03 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.