Remarks at a White House Reception for the Council of the Americas

June 1, 1983

David, George, ladies and gentlemen, I thank you all very much. It's a pleasure to speak to a group that doesn't need to be convinced of Latin America's vital importance to the United States. [Laughter]

I've long believed that the future is here in the Americas. And all of you are already involved in one way or another in giving life to that future. Recently, I spoke to the Congress about the situation in Central America, giving our lawmakers my view on this crucial region that is so near to us. I asked for their bipartisan support to help ease the problems that beset our neighbors in this region, and I've been gratified by the response from the Congress and from our people.

Let me say, too, that contrary to some reports you may have seen in recent days, we're not changing the policy I outlined to the Congress. Nor is there change in the urgent need for bipartisan support for that policy. As George Shultz said this week, we're not against anyone in Central America; we are for the people there. And we will firmly resist efforts that are aimed at denying them the freedom and democracy to which they're entitled. Now, there is hope for the region, and we mustn't falter in our commitment to these neighbors whose culture and heritage are part and parcel of our own.

The contributions you've made in the past and are making today are reason for optimism about the hemisphere's future. Over the years you've contributed decisively to the export-led development that has brought about the greatest expansion of trade and well-being in the history of the world. You've developed new management techniques that have brought you into close association with citizens of the countries in which you do business. You've observed their laws and served their national goals, thereby proving the common interests of the countries of this hemisphere.

These accomplishments have demonstrated that private enterprise is the engine of development. You've created employment, expanded the tax base on which social services depend, and above all, provided the dynamism and technology and the potential of technology and the opportunities of improving political and commercial ties among nations.

These achievements are being challenged today by two crises -- directly by the global recession and indirectly by the Communist threat to the freedom and independence of Central America. Now, I know that you'll be discussing these challenges at length in your meetings, but let me just say that the one essential to solving both is freedom -- freedom to garner the fruits of innovation, competition, and free trade; freedom to enlist the cooperation and creativity of the many people who value work as the fundamental ethic for bettering their lot; freedom to build and to solve problems without the suffocating weight of totalitarian tyranny.

The Communists and their Marxist apologists who claim that theirs is the key to a new utopia have been rejected again and again. A command economy leads to neither economic progress nor justice, but a democratic society with a free economy can achieve both. More and more people are realizing that Marxist socialism can provide rhetoric, but it doesn't put food on the table. One of the heads of state in the recent summit was speaking about someone of that philosophy in his own country and said, ``They talk left but live right.'' [Laughter]

I have to tell you that in my recent trip to Central America, in that one nation where, as I began to speak, a gentleman stood up in the audience and began to speak back at me. And since it was in a different language than my own, I didn't know what he was speaking about, but I had to wait and I asked the President of that country, the oldest democracy we have in the Americas, Costa Rica, what this was about. Well, he told me it was a member of what would correspond to our Congress, a member, one of their legislators, and he was a Communist. And that's what he was speaking about. Well, I had a mike and he didn't, so finally I just figured I might as well override him; so I did. [Laughter] But later the President told me something else. He was the Communist in the legislature. He was the only legislator in Costa Rica who drives a Mercedes. [Laughter]

I can think of nothing that is more important to the security of our country than building strong and healthy economies throughout the Western Hemisphere. One of the goals I've set is a new solidarity in the hemisphere. The people here have fundamental values that tie us together. Many of us are descended from pioneers who gave up everything to come to the New World in order to better themselves and their families.

From the South Pole to the North Pole, no place else in the world is quite like it. We worship the same God. And while there are three languages, there are only three, but so much in common. And one significant thing -- and I have said this to people of these other countries and to their -- they have expressed their pleasure in it -- you can cross from border to border in any of these countries in South, Central, and North America, and you're still among Americans, because we are all Americans from pole to pole.

Today the efficiency, resources, and know-how of this part of American business are as legendary as the spirit of those pioneers, and your role is no less historic. In Central America, in the Caribbean, and throughout Latin America, your enterprise will have tremendous impact on the political and economic future of the hemisphere. So, we're grateful to you for your resourcefulness and want to encourage you to be bold and to spread American enterprise throughout the hemisphere. That's a job that you can do better than anyone else.

I know that many of you have contributed to the Caribbean Initiative, and we're now close to making this program a reality. But I still need your active support. I need it because I also realize something else that is of importance to you, and this is where we in government come in.

You must have some assurance that the violence can be curbed in some of those other countries, the subversion that is going on and the attempt to take over by force from the governments of those countries. And there, they must have our help in stemming that violence so that you can go forward with investment and bringing their economies up to where the differences in society that exist can be overcome, and they can have standards of living comparable to ours.

So, we have to work together in bringing these two things about. And all I can say to you is keep up the good work, and God bless you. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 5:07 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his opening remarks, he referred to David Rockefeller, chairman of the council, and the Vice President.