Remarks Announcing a Proposed Initiative for Central America

February 3, 1984

Good morning to all of you, and welcome to the White House.

Before discussing the positive initiative that we'll propose for the region of Central America, I'd like to share some wonderful news with you. We have just learned that total unemployment has dropped to 7.9 percent, and another 250,000 Americans found jobs last month. Now, I'm just beginning to wonder if the best thing we could do for Central America would be to export our own economic recovery program. [Laughter] But I think, in a way, that's what we're talking about.

As I was about to say, in the coming days we'll send legislation to the Congress based on a remarkable bipartisan consensus of the National Bipartisan Commission on Central America. And I urge prompt congressional action and support.

Last April, in an address to a joint session of the Congress, I spoke to the American people about what is at stake in Central America and asked for bipartisan cooperation in our efforts to help make a better life for the people of that region. Shortly after that speech, the late Senator Henry Jackson called for the appointment of a bipartisan commission to chart a long-term course for democracy, economic improvement, and peace in Central America. And as Scoop Jackson so rightly observed, ``Whatever policy options might be available to us, ignoring threats to the stability of Central America and refusing to engage ourselves in the problems of the region are not among them.''

It was against this background that I did establish the National Bipartisan Commission on Central America. Its mission was to recommend a long-term policy appropriate to the economic, social, political, and military challenges to the region.

The distinguished Americans who served on that Commission have performed a great service to all Americans. All of us -- when I say all Americans -- all of us from Point Barrow to Tierra del Fuego. Henry Kissinger and the Commission members and senior counselors: My appreciation for a tough job well done.

Our proposed legislation, the Central America democracy, peace, and development initiative act, is based on the Commission's analysis and embodies its recommendations, and it's in the spirit of Senator Jackson who first proposed the idea of a bipartisan commission and served until his death as one of its senior counselors. He represented something very special in American politics. Scoop Jackson stood for national security and human rights because he knew that one without the other is meaningless. He said what he believed and stuck to it with vision, integrity, and grace.

The legislation does not offer a quick fix to the crisis in Central America; there is none. Our plan offers a comprehensive program to support democratic development, improve human rights, and bring peace to this troubled region that's so close to home.

The approach is right. It includes a mix of developmental, political, diplomatic, and security initiatives, equitably and humanely pursued. We either do them all, or we jeopardize the chance for real progress in the region. The plan responds to decades of inequity and indifference through its support of democracy, reform, and human freedom. It responds to the economic challenges of the region.

The legislation calls for $400 million in supplementary economic assistance for fiscal year 1984. And during the next 5 years, economic assistance will amount to $5.9 billion in appropriated funds and $2 billion in insurance and guarantees.

To support the security of the region's threatened nations, the legislaton will provide $515 million over the next 2 years. At the same time, it will require semiannual reports to the Congress assessing El Salvadoran policies for achieving political and economic development and conditions of security.

To support dialog and negotiations both among the countries of the region and within each country, the legislation provides guidance for cooperation with the Central American countries in establishing, then working with, the Central American Development Organization.

Our plan is for the long haul. It won't be easy, and it won't be cheap. But it can be done. And for strategic and moral reasons, it must be done. I ask the Congress to study the Commission report and to give our legislative proposal its urgent attention and bipartisan support. It is not an impossible dream. We have the resources to do it. This initiative serves the interest of the United States and of the Western Hemisphere. The beleaguered people in Central America want our help. Our enemies, extremists of the left and the right, would be delighted if we refused to give it. And if we don't help now, we'll surely pay dearly in the future.

With the support of the Congress, we will not let down all those in Central America who yearn for democracy and peace. And in so doing, we'll not let ourselves down.

So, I thank you all very much for being here. And, again, I thank the Commission for their outstanding work. Thank you all.

Note: The President spoke at 10:48 a.m. in the East Room at the White House to Members of Congress, members of the diplomatic community, and administration officials. Prior to his remarks, the President met in the Cabinet Room with the bipartisan congressional leaders to discuss the proposed initiative.