Remarks on Signing a Message to the Congress Transmitting Proposed Caribbean Basin Initiative Legislation

March 17, 1982

Ladies and gentlemen, I have a statement with regard to this signing here, and for the sound press I shall read it.

Three weeks ago, in an address to the Organization of American States I presented a comprehensive proposal designed to help the peoples of the Caribbean Basin cope with a crisis of unprecedented proportions. Today, I am transmitting this plan to Congress.

The well-being and security of our Caribbean Basin neighbors are in our own vital interests. Today, both their economic well-being and security are threatened. Economic disaster is consuming our neighbors' money reserves and credit, it's forcing thousands of people to immigrate, and threatening even the most established democracies. Extremist groups and violent minorities are exploiting this economic misery to gain new footholds in this hemisphere. If we don't act now, the dangers will grow. New Cubas will arise, and the cost of ensuring our security to the south will escalate.

The plan I'm offering today addresses the underlying economic crisis that offers opportunities to the foes of freedom. Our program, like the crisis itself, is unprecedented and consists of mutually reinforcing measures in the fields of trade, investment, and financial assistance. The package is a balanced one, and every component is essential. It's not foreign aid as usual, but a program that is based on unique American practices that we know work.

It will support our neighbors' efforts to achieve economic progress, political democracy, social justice, and freedom from outside intervention. By encouraging a more productive and dynamic private sector, it will develop the jobs, goods, and services which the people of the Basin need for a better life. This is our contribution. Others in this hemisphere are also increasing theirs. Our willingness to act boldly has been a catalyst.

Earlier this week, Al Haig and Bill Brock met with ministers of Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela, and Canada to discuss programs. These countries are making substantial contributions.

Colombia, which is itself a developing country, is increasing trade credits, balance of payment swaps, and technical assistance, and will extend trade preferences. Canada will more than double its assistance. Mexico and Venezuela, in addition to the $700 million a year oil facility, are increasing other programs including trade preferences. Our countries agreed jointly to ask the Europeans and Japan to pitch in, too, and we'll be meeting with them soon.

I'm acutely conscious that we ourselves are going through a period of economic difficulty. I wouldn't propose this program if I were not convinced that it is in our vital national interest. The economies of these countries are small, the impact of the trade measures will develop slowly. Every protection available to U.S. industry and labor against disruptive imports will remain.

The crisis in the Caribbean Basin is not a partisan issue. I urge the Congress to move with maximum speed. Congress' leadership will be crucial. Our security cannot wait.

[At this point, the President signed the message.]

The deed is done. [Referring to the Members of Congress:] Now it's in your hands.

Note: The President spoke at 10:35 a.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. Reporters were present for the signing ceremony which was attended by several Members of the Congress.