Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Writers for Hispanic, Religious, and Labor Publications

September 14, 1983

The President. It's a pleasure to have you here today. I understand that you've been briefed on some domestic and foreign policy issues, and we're concerned that all Americans are fully aware of what we're doing and how it relates to them.

For those of you in the Hispanic press, I want you to know that my concern is not something new or some grand campaign strategy, as some have indicated. Since my days as Governor of California, I've been aware of the rich contributions that Americans of Hispanic descent have made and are making to our country. Within 24 hours of declaring my candidacy for President in 1979, I outlined a program that emphasized the importance of better relations among all of us in this hemisphere. I said then and have echoed since at Cancun, during my trip to Central and South America, and during many consultations with the Presidents of Mexico, that we in this hemisphere are all Americans. We worship the same God. We have enormous potential if we can build on the many things that bind us together here, from North to South Pole, in this hemisphere.

And those of you who are with us today from the religious press understand, perhaps better than most, how faith brings people together. Recently I visited Hispanic business leaders in meetings in Florida and California, and I was impressed by the enthusiasm and the optimism that I found. Their spirit and energy were reminiscent of Americans of an earlier age when entrepreneurs turned an undeveloped wilderness into a dynamo of freedom and abundance. There's no better proof that the American dream is alive and well than what is happening in the Hispanic community in America today.

Many Americans of Hispanic descent are moving into positions of influence and authority, not because of some quota, but because they are top quality individuals. Earlier this week I appointed Katherine Ortega. She was the first woman to become a bank president in the State of California, and I appointed her to be Treasurer of the United States. She and the many others of Hispanic descent in this administration will continue to play an important role in building our economy.

Now I could recite a list of economic indicators, but by now I hope it's clear -- and you probably heard in the briefing earlier by others -- that we've turned a graveyard situation around, and the economy's taking off with new strength, confidence, and vigor. It's caught some of our critics by surprise. Only 3 years ago, some of the experts were saying that it would take a decade to squeeze inflation out of the economy. But you see, we didn't know any better, so we just went ahead and did it. [Laughter]

There's one word of warning, however. We can't take economic expansion for granted. The growth of government with its taxing and spending gave us double-digit inflation, sky-high interest rates, business stagnation, and unprecedented pessimism -- and that was just 3 years ago. We've got our country back on the road to noninflationary economic growth, but if we're lured back into the policies of tax and spend and inflate, policies that caused our problems in the first place, everyone will be worse off.

Strengthening America's economy hasn't been our only challenge. We've accelerated our efforts to rebuild our military strength, and this has permitted, or had been permitted to seriously erode during the last decade. Now, we've done this not because we enjoy spending money -- I don't want the Federal Government spending 1 cent more than is absolutely necessary -- but what we've done is for the preservation of our freedom and the maintenance of world peace. Wishful thinking is a threat to peace. There are members of the labor press, I know, here today, and I want you to know that I fully appreciate America's longstanding -- or labor's longstanding contribution to our country's security. I should. Maybe some of you aren't old enough to know that I was six times president of my own union, and I think I'm the only fellow that ever held this job as a lifetime member of a union.

The magnitude of our challenge was brought home to many Americans just 2 weeks ago when an unarmed passenger liner was willfully shot down by the Soviet Union, a massacre of 269 innocent people.

That gruesome episode unmasked the Soviet regime for what it is -- a dictatorship with none of the respect for human values and individual rights that we in the Western democracies hold so dear. That brutal regime stamps out any dissent that might serve as a moderating influence. Worshiping God is considered a social evil. Well, we can't permit such a regime to militarily dominate this planet. This incident should reaffirm our commitment and that of our allies to rebuild our defensive strength. We must and will continue to reach out for arms reduction agreements to reduce the nuclear and conventional arsenals that threaten humankind. But with a regime that callously shoots down passenger planes, demonstrating that their values are far different than our own, this is a great challenge, one that we must meet with faith, wisdom, unity, and courage.

Perhaps if any good has come out of this tragedy, it is that the Western democracies better appreciate that peace will take more than gestures of good will and sincerity.

We're encouraged that today the Western alliance is more unified than in many years. In this hemisphere we enjoy a healthy dialog with our neighbors, and a new level of respect has developed among us. In contrast, the Soviet Union is becoming increasingly isolated, as the free people of the world become more aware of the nature of the Soviet regime.

I thank you all very much for letting me be a part of this, and now you have some questions.

Offensive Weapons in Cuba

Q. Mr. President -- [inaudible] -- I don't have to tell you how much we like you in Miami. You know about that.

There has always been talk about the Kennedy-Khrushchev understanding of 1962. [Inaudible] -- and Bill Casey [Director of Central Intelligence] and Secretary Weinberger have said that the Russian -- [inaudible] -- understanding throughout the years on the Cuban -- [inaudible] -- bringing offensive weapons into the islands.

What is your position? What are your feelings on this understanding? Should the United States live up to it?

The President. I have been looking at that, and with all the things that are going on, we haven't been able to talk as much as we should about it. But I have to tell you that as far as I'm concerned, that agreement has been abrogated many times by the Soviet Union and Cuba in the bringing in of what can only be considered offensive weapons, not defensive, there. And we'll get around to that.

We did try to open some talks when there seemed to be an indication coming from Cuba that there was a willingness for that. They got nowhere. So we're going to carry on with what we're doing.

Cuban Refugees

Q. Mr. President, in January of 1982, your Press Secretary said that you were shocked and dismayed when you learned that a Cuban stowaway had been deported back to the island. You were right; that Cuban is now back in jail. Since then about 50 Cubans have come over on small boats fleeing communism. They are at the Chrome Avenue Detention Camp in South Bay. Do you think that's fair?

The President. It is to this extent, that out of the Mariel boatlift we found that there had been deliberately planted among legitimate refugees a great number of Cuban criminals who were released from prisons, some from mental institutions, and they had been responsible for -- some of those that moved out into our society, before we were aware of this -- had been responsible for some very violent and very vicious crimes. And we're holding many more than what you just mentioned here. Those, I'm sure, are being held while we do a little checking on them.

We are holding these others. We have appealed a number of times to Cuba to take them back. They have refused. And we're still trying to deal with this problem and what we do with those who were infiltrated. We cannot deny that there is evidence, also, that in addition to this kind of individual, that they have used this refugee movement to, well, infiltrate subversives into our country. And so we're trying to do a little better job of checking.

President's Decision on Seeking Reelection

Q. Mr. President -- [inaudible] -- could you tell us when you will announce that you will seek or not seek the Presidency again?

The President. At the last possible moment -- [laughter] -- that I can announce a decision, and for a very obvious reason. Number one, if the answer is no, I'm a lameduck and can't get anything done. If the answer is yes, they'll charge that everything I'm doing is political -- [laughter] -- and I can't get anything done. So, I'm going to wait as long as I can.

Let me move over to this side now just a minute.

National Right-to-Work Law

Q. Mr. President, do you support a national right to work law? And if so, why? If not, why not?

The President. Whatever I may personally believe, I will tell you that officially my position is that I believe that this still belongs at the State level for determination, that this is something that the States should determine. Having been a Governor, I'm a great believer that the Federal Government has moved into many areas where the authority properly belonged to the States. We are a federation of 50 sovereign States, and that is one of the greatest guarantees of our freedom. So my position is that's for the States to determine.

Agricultural Programs

Q. Mr. President -- [inaudible] -- there is concern among the agriculture community, because of the drought all over the Nation, that the disaster provision in the 1981 farm bill will not be enacted by the administration. There is also some concern and some requests that the PIK program be extended through 1983. Can you tell us what the status on both of those is?

The President. No, I can't, other than the fact that they're very much on the agenda for us. As a matter of fact, we had a Cabinet meeting yesterday just for a complete report on the economic problems brought about by the drought. But all of these things are, as I say, on the agenda, and I can't give you any answers right now.

Foreign Missionaries and Intelligence Gathering

Q. Mr. President -- [inaudible] -- is there an administration position and has there been an Executive order to prohibit the use of missionaries for gathering of intelligence, or the use of an intelligence officer posing as a foreign missionary? We have 3,000 foreign missionaries in 100 countries.

The President. For heaven's sakes. Have you got an answer on that? I don't. [Laughter] As a matter of fact, the question has never been brought to my attention. But all I can tell you is now you having asked it, I'm going back over to the Oval Office and I'm going to say, ``Hey, is there?''

I would not be aware and am not aware that anything of that kind has ever been done. I have the greatest respect for those people whose religious calling takes them out into the world, and I wish them well.

Hispanics in the Administration

Q. Mr. President -- [inaudible] -- your appointments of Linda Chavez and Katherine Ortega have been hailed as appointments of both women and Hispanics, and yet there's still concern these aren't policymaking positions. Do you have any plans to appoint Hispanics or women to top-level policymaking positions soon?

The President. Yes. As a matter of fact, we have about 125 in the administration right now, and we are constantly, in our personnel section, on the search for more. We would have had a member of the Cabinet, except that at the last moment, probably faced with all the reporting and the revelations and the personal affairs and so forth that have to be made, like so many others, this individual turned away and said no, I don't want any part of it, and left us.

I don't mean to say that he did this because of any wrongdoing on his part. You'd be surprised, growing out of some of the past problems of Watergate and so forth, there have been a number of restrictions that have been placed on people who were willing to volunteer and serve for government, restrictions that have prevented many fine, capable people when they just take a look and they say no, that's humiliating, and I'm not going to do it, and they turn away from us.

I wish we could return to some sanity and recognize that people who are willing to give up their personal lives and careers for a period and come in and serve government aren't doing it for any personal gain. As a matter of fact, I don't know of anyone on our Cabinet today who did not make a tremendous sacrifice, personally and economically, to serve in government.

El Salvador

Q. Mr. President -- [inaudible] -- since the ultimate outcome of the struggle going on in El Salvador depends on the improvement of the economic condition of the people, why don't we hear more in America about what that government is doing, with our help, to improve the economic condition of the El Salvadoran people, instead of so much about the warfare that is going on?

The President. You are all members of a profession that could do a lot about that. Now there are some very well-kept secrets in Washington, not because we want them kept secrets but because they just don't seem to be of interest to the media.

Now, we have over and over again said that our help to El Salvador has been three dollars of economic and social help for every dollar of military help. And yet the bulk of the people, according to the polls in the country today, don't even know which side we're on in El Salvador -- whether we're on the government's side or the guerrillas' side. We have tried, yes.

The Government of El Salvador has a reversal, over centuries of another form of government there, have been trying to implement these social and economic reforms, the land reform program, but because of what the guerrillas are doing, many of those people who are now landowners through this government program are in refugee camps, driven off their land and unable to farm it, because it would mean death to go out in the fields. The guerrillas would see to it that it would mean death.

Just as when they had the election last year, the guerrillas' slogan was ``Vote Today and Die Tonight.'' And yet, more than 83 percent of the eligible voters in El Salvador made their way to the polls and voted. They are working at instituting democracy. They haven't made a hundred-percent cleanup of some of the past practices that have taken place, but they've made remarkable progress.

And yes, the people should know about that. We have seen plenty of shots about our military games that are going on in Honduras, the joint military exercises. But has anyone shown you some of the hospitals, you know, those balloon-type buildings that you inflate and blow up, that are there? One hospital alone -- 27 doctors and a full complement of nurses from our country, and not just for military purposes -- treating and taking care of the people who have not had proper medical care, the civilians in that area.

There's a great story to be told about what's going on down there and what we're trying to help them in accomplishing. So talk to some of your colleagues out there in the general media.

Q. Talk about it Saturday on the radio. [Laughter]

U.S.-Israeli Relations

Q. Mr. President -- [inaudible] -- and mine is in a religious realm. The Bible says in the Old Testament, in Deuteronomy, Genesis, and Joshua, God made a covenant with Abraham with respect to Israel. Now, what I would like to know, Mr. President -- and I'm glad you're our President -- how do you cope with this and how does this affect your decision on shaping up our foreign policy in Israel?

The President. I would have to tell you that I believe -- and this is not just our administration, but since 1948 when Israel became a nation -- the policy of the United States Government, under Democrat and Republican Presidents and legislatures, has been one of alliance with Israel and assurance of Israel's continuation as a state. And I don't think that any American administration would ever forsake Israel.

This is one of the reasons for our peace plan. When Sadat did what he did and brought peace between Egypt and Israel, the two that had been actually in combat with each other, it was my belief that what we should do is start working with the Arab nations to see if among them we could not first bring their recognition of the right of Israel to exist and then see if we could not create additional Egypts, nations that would enter into a peace treaty, because no nation can go on having to maintain the military stature that Israel does. When you stop to think that the 500 men that they lost in the fighting in Lebanon, if that was the United States, proportionately, that would have been more than 30,000 dead.

Economically, the strain on them is so great that the answer to their problem must be peace. And peace can only come when all of them recognize, all the other nations recognize the right of this nation to exist. This was one of the reasons why we would never negotiate with the PLO, because they openly said they denied the right of Israel to be a nation. Their dream was of driving them into the sea. And we said how could we talk to someone who believes that way?

Right now, we started with the idea that the Lebanese situation had to be cleared up and the foreign forces all get out of Lebanon before we proceed with these peace talks. I am still optimistic that we're going to be able to bring this about, and we'll continue to try.

I'm sorry I can't take the rest of the hands here. Thank you all very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:33 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building.