Remarks at a White House Ceremony Marking the Implementation of the Caribbean Basin Initiative

October 5, 1983

Well, thank you all, and I say that -- I think I can say that on behalf of the Vice President and myself. We're delighted to welcome all of you distinguished members from the diplomatic community, the Senators and Representatives and honored guests.

And today we celebrate the passage of legislation that I've held close to my heart for a long time. I know all of us wished it could have come sooner, but as I promised when some of you were here last December, the time is short and the needs are great. We're all Americans. Together we can be a mighty force for good. We can show the world that we conquer fear with faith, we overcome poverty with growth, and we counter violence with opportunity and freedom. And now we're making good on our promise. I'm proud to stand with you for this celebration on the long-awaited first stage of implementation of the Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act.

Ours is a collective partnership for peace, prosperity, and democracy in the Caribbean and in Central America -- a partnership that's born of our shared vision that democracy is a God-given birthright and that faith, freedom, and respect for the dignity of every citizen are the mainsprings of human progress. From the very outset of our administration, we've never wavered in our long-term goal to foster true stability and democracy. And to do so, we must work together to help improve the underlying conditions for economic development.

Peace and security in the Caribbean Basin are in our vital interest. When our neighbors are in trouble, their troubles inevitably become ours. What these countries need most is the opportunity to produce and export their products at fair prices. That's what the Caribbean Basin Initiative is all about. It offers them open markets in the United States and initiatives to encourage investment and growth. Far from a handout, the proposal will help these countries help themselves. Trade, not aid, will mean more jobs for them and more jobs for us.

The CBI package proposed to the Congress in March of '82 was designed by the governments and private sectors of the region's countries, including those of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It had three major elements: a supplemental appropriation of $350 million to provide emergency balance-of-payment support, the elimination for 12 years of nearly all of the remaining tariff barriers on Caribbean Basin country exports to the United States, and tax incentives to promote new investment in the tourist industry.

The $350 million supplemental appropriation received strong bipartisan support and was approved by the Congress in September of 1982. These moneys have now been obligated, allowing the importation of raw materials and capital goods to help get stalled economies in the region moving again.

Aid levels to the Caribbean Basin have doubled since 1980. The other CBI proposals were an innovative and unprecedented plan to integrate trade preferences, investment incentives, and other measures to encourage the economic and social development of the countries of the Caribbean Basin. We seek to help countries implement free market strategies to stimulate their exports and strengthen their economies by expanding growth.

Our original proposals evolved during many months of congressional consideration and the Caribbean Basin economic recovery act was approved on July 28th. And the bill that I signed in August is true to our original intent. I'm convinced that over time it will contribute significantly to the economic stability and social tranquillity of countries in the Caribbean Basin.

The first element of this legislation is a 12-year, one-way, free trade arrangement for all goods produced in the Caribbean Basin except textiles, apparel, canned tuna, leather goods, shoes, and petroleum products. This marks a step our country has never taken before. It's evidence of our commitment to the economic health of our good neighbors.

The second element would allow U.S. citizens attending business conventions in the Caribbean Basin and Bermuda to deduct from their income taxes the reasonable expenses incurred. The Secretary of Treasury is here. He wants me to say ``reasonable'' again. [Laughter]

Now, these benefits will become all the more important as the vigorous expansion of our own economy brings about an increase in our imports and more and more business travel. As a footnote, you should know that we have 125 Peace Corps volunteers trained in small-scale agribusiness. They're helping small farmers increase and diversify food production for their countries' needs and for winter markets in Europe and North America. Fifty more American volunteers will receive this training within the next few weeks.

I was especially gratified that support for the CBI was overwhelming and bipartisan. I offer special recognition to the many Members of Congress who strongly supported our proposals, guided them through the approval process, in particular, Congressman Dan Rostenkowski and Senator Bob Dole.

You know, almost a year ago, Dan Rostenkowski took members of his Ways and Means Committee to visit five countries and meet with the Prime Ministers of more than 10 Caribbean countries. And it was on this trip that Dan coined a saying which was picked up by everyone in the Caribbean. ``CBI,'' he said, ``would be friends helping friends.''

In that spirit, I extend my appreciation to the governments and peoples of the Caribbean Basin countries themselves. They never tired in explaining why the CBI should be passed. They include the very effective spokesmen for both the region's private sectors and labor unions.

I also want to express my appreciation to David Rockefeller and his associates at the Council of the Americas and Central American Action for their help in providing key business support for passage of this bill. And I pledge to you today that enactment of the landmark Caribbean Basin economic recovery act will be followed by a vigorous implementation effort on the part of this administration.

Ambassador Brock will continue as Chairman of our Senior Interagency Task Force responsible for its policy and program development. I'm calling on the other Cabinet members who've contributed to the CBI's development to give Ambassador Brock by January 1st their proposals on how to make the CBI the most effective means of expanding economic opportunity in the region.

The formal process of designation which the Congress has given me the responsibility to carry out has been with delegations visiting with all the potential beneficiaries. Those discussions have been conducted with the kind of mutual commitment to friendship and good will which has made us all so excited about the future of the region.

I'm optimistic that we will be extending the benefits of the program to virtually all the beneficiaries by the first of next year. The economic and social development of the Caribbean Basin should be part of a collective effort by the international community. Even before my original announcement of the CBI, we held consultations with the Governments of Canada, Mexico, and Venezuela, as well as with our European allies and Japan. Colombia subsequently agreed to become a participant.

Enactment of the CBI should encourage other donor governments and appropriate international organizations to expand their assistance activities in the region. The problems of the Caribbean Basin region are deep-seated, and reducing them will be a great challenge. But we can gain strength from our shared vision.

Nearly a century ago Jose Marti, a great citizen of the Caribbean and the Americas, warned that, ``Mankind is composed of two sorts of men: those who love and create, and those who hate and destroy.'' And Pope John Paul II has told us that, ``Only love can build.'' With faith, wisdom, courage, and love we can overcome injustice, hatred, and oppression and build a better life together for all of the Americas.

I'm confident we will. I think back to an incident during my last trip to Central America. As I was beginning to speak in Costa Rica, suddenly I was loudly interrupted by a gentleman who was determined to make his own speech out there from the audience. I didn't know exactly what was going on, and I turned to the President of Costa Rica, asked him, and he informed me that this was a Communist, a Marxist member of their congress, their legislature, and that he was determined to denounce us. And that's what he was doing.

He was speaking in Spanish, so I didn't really know what he was saying. And, finally, it reached a point that he seemed to be going on, and I was standing there, and I realized I had a microphone and he didn't. So, I just overrode him and pointed out to the audience what I knew about him, what I'd been told about him, and what a tribute it was to their democracy, of which they're very proud, that he was allowed to say these things in that forum, and yet he would never be allowed to do what he was doing in any of the Communist countries. Well, the audience of more than 1,000 rose in a standing ovation. There was a lump in my throat; must have been one in his, because he sat down. [Laughter]

I knew in my heart they weren't applauding me. They weren't even applauding the United States. They were applauding the principles, the ideals, and the dreams that we all share and which they, the brave Costa Rican people, have had the courage to live up to.

I have to tell you a little postscript there, that later the President told me that that Communist member of the legislature was the only member of the legislature that could afford to drive a Mercedes. [Laughter] But if the people of the Americas are given a free choice, they'll all choose to be like Costa Rica, not Castro's Cuba.

Only a counterfeit revolution builds walls to keep people in and employs armies of secret police to keep them quiet. The real revolution lives in the principle that government must rest on the consent of the governed, and this spirit of democracy and freedom of opportunity is the driving force behind the Caribbean Basin Initiative. We're building together a future of new hope and more opportunity. And I pledge the best efforts of our administration to carry this positive program forward, making it worthy of the ideals and dreams that gave it birth.

And now I'd like to ask Bill Brock to make a few remarks. And I thank you very much, and God bless you all. Bill?

Note: The President spoke at 11:32 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. The ceremony was attended by Members of Congress, members of the diplomatic community, U.S. Ambassadors to the Caribbean region and Caribbean Ambassadors to the United States, and representatives of the business community involved in the initiative.

Ambassador William E. Brock, United States Trade Representative, also spoke at the ceremony.