Statement on Proposed Caribbean Basin Initiative Legislation

February 16, 1983

In December, I pledged that the Caribbean Basin Initiative would be among the very first pieces of legislation that I would submit to the 98th Congress, and today I have taken the opportunity to focus again on this initiative, which is close to my heart and one of my highest priorities.

As you know, last year the Caribbean Basin Initiative enjoyed strong, bipartisan support and was actually passed by the House. It is essential that we renew our efforts now to complete this vital task.

When we think of our country's security -- about strategic areas absolutely essential to our safety -- certainly the Western Hemisphere must top the list. If we cannot respond to upheavals in our own front yard, how can we expect to play a strong role for peace in the faraway Middle East, for example?

Today our democratic neighbors in the Caribbean Basin area are confronted with unprecedented political and economic pressures. Aid is important, but it is not enough. We must help these countries to renew their economies and strengthen their democracies. We must open new markets and encourage investment and business expansion, which, I would stress, will lead to direct benefits to the U.S. economy. The tax and trade provisions of the CBI that we are seeking are the essential elements that would make our program more promising than past efforts; leaving them out would gut the program of its greatest strengths.

There are those who believe it takes a general crisis to get action out of Washington. Well, we cannot afford to wait for a crisis to erupt so close to home. It has been almost a year since I met with Caribbean leaders in Barbados. Their people believe in democracy and want nothing more than an opportunity to live and work in freedom. We owe it to them -- but more importantly, to ourselves -- to follow through on a program so vital to the well-being of our closest neighbors.

It is no coincidence that I have concentrated considerable effort on the Western Hemisphere over these last 2 years. Shortly after my election, I visited the President of Mexico and have forged close ties with his successor. The first head of state to visit the White House during my administration was Prime Minister Seaga from Jamaica. And just a few months ago I visited South and Central America, meeting with 6 neighboring heads of state. Since entering office it has been my privilege to have conferred directly with the leaders of 15 donor and recipient nations of the CBI.

But I cannot do it alone. Success will require a bipartisan legislative effort; it is the only way we can finish the job we started last year and put into effect the tax and trade provisions of the CBI. If there is one thing I have learned since getting to the White House, it is that we have got to work together if anything is to be accomplished. I am counting on men and women of both parties -- as represented by today's visitors -- to work with me in securing this vital program for progress in the Caribbean region, and greater security, freedom, and prosperity for all the Americas.

Note: The statement was issued by the Office of the Press Secretary following the President's meeting with a bipartisan group of Congressmen to discuss the proposed legislation. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room at the White House.