Message to the Congress Transmitting a Proposed Initiative for Central America

February 17, 1984

To the Congress of the United States:

I herewith transmit proposed legislation that embodies the consensus arrived at by the National Bipartisan Commission on Central America. Its unifying thread is the spirit of the late Senator Henry M. Jackson -- to advance the twin purposes of national security and human development.

Peace and individual betterment are universal purposes. They are at the heart of the American dream. Yet, today in Central America these goals are not realized. Poverty and violence are widespread. As a consequence, democratic forces are not able to flourish, and those who seek to disrupt freedom and opportunity threaten the heart of those nations.

Throughout our history, our leaders have put country before party on issues in foreign affairs important to the national interest. The Commission identifies the situation in Central America as this kind of issue. The 12 Commissioners -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- conclude ``that Central America is both vital and vulnerable, and that whatever other crises may arise to claim the nation's attention, the United States cannot afford to turn away from that threatened region.''

We face an inescapable reality: we must come to the support of our neighbors. The democratic elements in Central America need our help. For them to overcome the problems of accumulated historical inequities and immediate armed threats will take time, effort, and resources. We must support those efforts.

As the Commission recommends, our policy must be based on the principles of democratic self-determination, economic and social improvement that fairly benefits all, and cooperation in meeting threats to the security of the region.

Accordingly, I propose the ``Central America Democracy, Peace and Development Initiative Act of 1984.'' This Act calls for an increased commitment of resources beginning immediately and extending regularly over the next five years. This assistance is necessary to support the balance of economic, political, diplomatic, and security measures that will be pursued simultaneously.

I propose authorization for an $8 billion, five-year reconstruction and development program for Central America, composed of $6 billion in direct appropriations and $2 billion in insurance and guarantee authority. For fiscal year 1985 the figures are $1.1 billion and $600 million, respectively. In addition, the plan calls for $400 million in supplemental appropriations for an emergency economic stabilization program for fiscal year 1984.

These resources will support agricultural development, education, health services, export promotion, land reform, housing, humanitarian relief, trade credit insurance, aid for small businesses, and other activities. Because democracy is essential to effective development, special attention will be given to increasing scholarships, leadership training, educational exchanges, and support for the growth of democratic institutions.

Regional institutions such as the Central American Common Market (CACM) and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) made a major contribution to the region's economic growth in the 1960's and early 70's. I am proposing a substantial assistance program to revitalize these institutions and thereby stimulate intra-regional trade and economic activity.

To enable the countries of Central America to participate directly in the planning of these efforts, I shall explore the creation of a Central American Development Organization (CADO). This would enable political and private leaders from both the United States and Central America to review objectives and progress, and make recommendations on the nature and levels of our assistance efforts. The organization would, in effect, help to oversee and coordinate the major efforts that must be made. The legislation I am proposing sets out a series of principles to guide the negotiations for the establishment of this new regional institution. I intend to respect those principles in these negotiations and in our subsequent participation in CADO. As the Commission recognized, the ultimate control of aid funds will always rest with the donors. Consistent with the Constitution and this precept, final disposition of funds appropriated under this legislation will be subject to the ultimate control of the Congress and the President.

The National Bipartisan Commission specifically recommends significantly increased levels of military aid to the region, especially El Salvador. In the words of the Report, ``the worst possible policy for El Salvador is to provide just enough aid to keep the war going, but too little to wage it successfully.'' I propose authorization for a $259 million supplemental appropriation for the region for fiscal year 1984 and a $256 million program for fiscal year 1985.

U.S. military assistance is vital to shield progress on human rights and democratization against violence from extremes of both left and right. I shall ensure that this assistance is provided under conditions necessary to foster human rights and political and economic development, and our Administration will consult with the Members of the Congress to make certain that our assistance is used fairly and effectively.

No new laws are needed to carry out many of the Commission's recommendations. There is, for example, a consensus on an integral part of our strategy in Central America: support for actions implementing the 21 Contadora objectives to help bring about peace. The Contadora objectives are in Central America's interest and in ours. Similarly, we are urging other nations to increase their assistance to the area.

I believe it is no accident that the Commission reached many of the same conclusions about comprehensive solutions to Central America's problems as have the participants in the Contadora process. As Dr. Kissinger noted in his January 10 letter to me, ``the best route to consensus on U.S. policy toward Central America is by exposure to the realities of Central America.''

The National Bipartisan Commission on Central America has done its work. Now it is our turn. Unless we act -- quickly, humanely, and firmly -- we shall face a crisis that is much worse for everyone concerned. We owe it to our children to make sure that our neighbors have a chance to live decent lives in freedom.

I, therefore, ask that the enclosed legislation be given your urgent attention and early and favorable action.

Ronald Reagan

The White House,

February 17, 1984.