Remarks in an Interview With Representatives of Excelsior of Mexico, Together With Written Responses to Questions
August 14, 1986
I would like to ask you, sir, to what would you attribute the late interest
which has been expressed by Members of the Senate as well as high officials of
your government regarding the fact of Mexico's Government?
The President. Well, maybe it has come
about because of some of the things -- such as the closer relationship now with
regard to drugs and so forth. But it was something that I had determined we
needed before I became President -- that here we are,
three neighbors here in North America -- Canada, the United States, and Mexico -- from north to south,
and that I just thought that there should be a closer relationship between
these three. And so, President De la Madrid and I have met every
year. In fact, our first meeting was when he was just the President-elect,
before he had even taken office. And we have kept that relationship going, and
I think it is closer and better. And I know right now, on the problem of drugs
that concerns us both, the Attorney General of Mexico and our Attorney General
are working very closely together.
Mr. Reagan, what would be the most important result of the conversations that
you held with President De la Madrid yesterday?
The President. Well, again, as I say,
we keep in touch, and you know I've always believed that you only get in
trouble when you're talking about each other instead of to each other. And we
discussed a number of things: our concerns in Central America with regard to
the Nicaragua situation; again, the drug policy, and strengthened again our
resolve to work together resolving that; and also the economic problems that
are besetting Mexico and how we could possibly cooperate and work and help them
through this particular period.
Did you reach some agreement on the problem of Nicaragua?
The President. Yes, I think we did.
Mainly, I think what was necessary was -- it was an opportunity for me to
reassure him as to what our intentions were and what it was we were trying to
bring about there.
You are still wanting to push against Managua because it is a
dictatorship and -- in respect with this $100 million [pending legislation to
provide assistance to the Nicaraguan democratic resistance] -- to reach what?
The President. Well, since we have met
nine times with the leaders of the Sandinista government in an attempt to get
them to agree to sit down and negotiate with the others who are in the
revolution against Somoza and who are now the freedom fighters, because the
Sandinistas seized power and violated the pledge that they had all made to the
Organization of American States, a pledge that their goal, a revolutionary
goal, was democracy, free speech, freedom of press, free labor unions -- all of
the things associated with democracy. When the Sandinistas took over, they
ousted their former allies, and they named it a totalitarian government.
what our attempt has always been in these nine meetings with them is to
persuade them to sit down and negotiate the democratization of Nicaragua, to return to those
principles that they had once pledged. And in every instance the freedom
fighters had agreed with us they would lay down their arms to come to the table
and have a peaceful political solution to the problem. And nine times there was
failure on the part of the Nicaraguans, the Sandinista government. They
refused. We believe that it's going to take the pressure of the freedom
fighters. And what we really think would be the best goal is if they have the
strength to exert leverage on the Sandinista government, then we could still
have a peaceful political settlement.
the alternative would have to be, then, if Nicaragua still won't see the
light -- or the Sandinista government won't, then the only alternative is for
the freedom fighters to have their way and take over.
So, you think this $100 million are enough to pressure him -- them? Excuse me.
The President. Well, it depends on how
long it might take for a resolution to this problem. But I think, right now, it
can go much further than most people think it will, because, you know, the
needs of fighters or soldiers using guerrilla tactics are much less than those
of a more formal military structure. As a matter of fact, the rule of thumb in
such a relationship is that normally a government and its forces have to
outnumber the guerrillas 10 to 1 in order to succeed.
Do you think -- just the last one -- do you think there's any danger in Mexico for the democracy,
because it's the way to come to the United States by Nicaraguan Communist
The President. Well, I don't know
whether I understand your question.
Could there be any danger in that Mexico might be the bridge in
order that communism might go through there in order to reach the United States?
The President. Well, let me just
answer that in a broader sense. The Sandinistas themselves -- early on after
they took over -- they proclaimed that their revolution was not going to be
confined to their own borders. In other words, they were going to pursue
Communist revolution throughout Latin America. Now, that was their
statement, not ours. And so, I feel we ought to take them at their word.
Responses to Questions Submitted by Excelsior
What is the basic purpose of your meeting with President De la Madrid? Does this meeting mean
that your administration wants to cooperate in solving, for the benefit of both
countries, the problems Mexico faces -- and which
would also affect the United States?
The President. This meeting is an
opportunity for a friendly, frank, and open dialog between friends. Your President and I have gotten to know each other well
since our first meeting in 1982. Beyond that, we do want to strengthen
cooperative relations. Mexico and the United States are, above all, good
neighbors. What affects Mexico does, indeed, affect
the United States and vice versa. Being
good neighbors means being willing to exchange views about problems and
challenges we face and then seeing how we can work together for our mutual
It seems that during the last 2 years some significant disagreements and
tensions have surfaced in U.S.-Mexican relations. Some examples of this
situation are the criticism by some U.S. elements of Mexican
democracy and the pressure on Mexico by some U.S. Senators and other
political figures with regards to Mexico's domestic politics and
the corruption of Mexico's political system,
which have even been questioned by some U.S. diplomats. What is your
opinion of this situation, and how should relations be between two so close and
so different neighboring countries?
The President. Maintaining a close,
friendly, and mutually beneficial relationship between the United States and Mexico has always been one of
my top foreign policy objectives. In fact, you may recall that President Lopez
Portillo was the first head of state with whom I met, even before I assumed
office. That's not to say that we don't have problems in our relationship from
time to time. But with the relationship we have built together, we can discuss
those problems honestly and try to resolve them. It's important to distinguish
very carefully between the policy of the United States Government and the
private views of individuals, whether they are political figures or ordinary
citizens. I believe relations between our two countries are excellent and are
typical of relations between old friends: We have our differences, but none of
them can overcome our fundamental bonds and common concerns.
Mexico's Economy and Foreign
Do you believe that Mexico is adequately
fulfilling its commitments with regards to its foreign debt servicing? If so,
do you believe that the high interest rates on Mexico's debt are correct,
taking into consideration that they harm, upset, and destabilize Mexican
The President. President De la Madrid and his cabinet have
shown extraordinary courage and political will in proposing programs and policies
to overcome economic difficulties and restore economic growth. There is still
work to be done to ensure that Mexico will enjoy sustained
economic growth in the future. Mexico has serviced its debt
in a timely fashion and has not accumulated arrears as have some other debtor
nations. As a result of its good record in cooperating with creditors in
working out rescheduling agreements and its stabilization efforts after 1982, Mexico has enjoyed lower
interest rate spreads than many other debtor nations. Interest charges on
Mexican debt will be about $1.5 billion less this year than in 1985 as a result
of these relatively narrower spreads and lower interest rates worldwide.
Even though the U.S. Government is not a creditor of Mexico, U.S. banks are, and it is
well known that U.S. banks operate according
to the political environment between the two countries. It has also been proven
that the Baker plan has not had the success which had been anticipated. As a
consequence, the U.S. Treasury Department had to intervene directly to assist
in alleviating -- though temporarily -- Mexico's financial crisis so
that Mexico could be able to sign
an agreement with the International Monetary Fund. Up to what point is your
administration interested in Mexico's continued economic
growth? And what would you advise creditors and indebted Latin American
countries so that they could reach an equitable agreement and that the true
economic development of the countries south of the Rio Grande would be
The President. A keystone of our
policy towards Mexico is our desire to see
your country continue to grow and develop as it did for several decades before
1982. Mexico clearly has the
resources -- in every sense of the word -- to prosper and thereby better the
lives of its people.
economic restructuring program announced by President De la Madrid and outlined in the
agreement with the International Monetary Fund augurs well for the future. The
agreement with the IMF is based on an economic program developed by the Mexican
authorities themselves. It is an equitable agreement which will allow Mexico to grow and meet its
debt strategy provides an overall framework for cooperation among debtor
nations, commercial banks, and international financial institutions to achieve
sustained economic growth. The major elements of the U.S. proposal for sustained
growth are clearly evident in the Mexican program. I have urged other countries
to follow Mexico's example.
is no simple recipe that can be used everywhere to deal with nations debt
problems. The countries which have been more successful economically have
encouraged private initiative, avoided excessive regulation, and provided
adequate incentives for productive investment. They have relied primarily on
markets to set interest rates and prices and have maintained appropriate
exchange rates. They have avoided excessive government consumption and control.
The most successful countries have not relied on protectionism and import substitution
but have followed a more outward-looking strategy.
With regard to democracy and politics, what should both of them consist of? And
why do countries like Nicaragua have to be
characterized by your administration as they have? Would it be in accordance
with democracy to intervene directly and officially in the affairs of other
countries, as in the case of supporting the contras in Nicaragua? Do you think that such
a small country can actually be considered a threat to the United States and U.S. allies?
The President. Democracy is a
political system in which the people have a major say in their destiny.
Democracy should consist of representative and pluralistic processes that will
guarantee that the people take part in the decisions that will affect their
lives. The system should ensure that the various currents of opinion have free
access to fair, regular, and competitive elections based on the full observance
of citizens rights. We realize, however, that while democracy requires
elections, elections alone are not enough. Democracy must also consist of equal
access to education, justice, and employment. Democracy also means the absence
of tyranny, whether this be the tyranny of a minority
over the majority or that of the majority over a minority.
in Nicaragua there is little
evidence of democracy, and what vestiges remain are
rapidly being stifled. We describe Nicaragua as a Marxist-Leninist
state in simple recognition of the reality. I might add that they describe
themselves as Marxist-Leninist. All of the elements which are commonly
considered throughout the world as necessary for a democracy are being
subjected to the tyranny of the commandantes in Nicaragua. The Sandinistas have
now completed their elimination of the free press. They are harassing the
Catholic Church and other religious groups. They are preventing the other
political parties, labor unions, and business groups from carrying out their
legitimate functions. In such circumstances it is not surprising that
Nicaraguans who rejoiced at the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship have
banded together to resist the consolidation of another dictatorship, a
dictatorship with sponsors who come from outside of this hemisphere.
in the Western
You have stated that Nicaragua's communism could
expand to Mexico. Could you tell me what
Mexico should do to help
prevent that, and what is Mexico not doing at the
present time to avoid that from happening?
The President. I think your President
would be better than I at answering your question. I have great respect for
President De la Madrid and the Mexican
people's commitment to democracy and Western values, which are inherently
inconsistent with communism. We have seen how Communist governments in Cuba and Nicaragua have established close
ties to the Soviet
and have engaged in subversion of democratic governments as a matter of policy.
Communists are hostile to democracy. They are hostile to the church. And they
feel threatened by democratic governments. All people who cherish democracy
should be deeply concerned about the consolidation of expansionist, Communist,
pro-Soviet governments in this hemisphere.
Could you tell me if there are possibilities of a rapprochement between Washington and Havana in the near future?
The President. Cuba's rulers, who show no
willingness to tolerate a dissenting thought in their own domain, have never
been so out of step as they are now with trends in the hemisphere, where
freedom and human rights are ascendant. Their Communist economic model has
proven a dismal failure with a drop in per capita income under Castro's rule
from among the highest in the hemisphere to among the lowest. In foreign
policy, Cuba shows itself dedicated
first and foremost to the Soviet alliance. Among its neighbors and as far away
as Africa it sows violence and
discord. There is little prospect of any significant improvement in our
relations with such a Cuba. Yet despite these
fundamental differences, we remain prepared to resolve specific issues, such as
[im]migration, if Cuba is willing.
Unfortunately, Cuba unilaterally suspended
the one agreement we did reach and showed insufficient resolve to make progress
during recent talks with our representatives in Mexico City.
Contadora Peace Initiative
It is said that the Contadora peace initiative was
not signed because of the pressures the United States exercised on El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Guatemala. Is this true? If it is
not true, could you tell us what, in your view, is the reason for the stalemate
in the Contadora process?
The President. It certainly is not
true. We have never pressured the Central American democracies not to sign a Contadora peace treaty. The problem is that the draft is
not complete; it is not ready for signature. The democracies have given
detailed explanations of its deficiencies. The draft needs to be strengthened
in several areas, such as verification and democratization. Also, it calls for
negotiations on arms limits to begin after the treaty has already been signed
and implemented. When you look at it closely, it asks the Central Americans to
``sign now, negotiate later.'' The Central Americans don't need us or any other
nation to tell them that this is not a smart thing to do.
principal problem confronting the Contadora process
is the same as it has always been: The Sandinistas are unwilling to seriously
negotiate many of the key points of the 1983 Document of Objectives. They have
been intransigent on the political aspects of democracy and national
reconciliation as well as on military levels. They want a treaty which
immediately gives them what they want -- relief from the pressure of the
democratic resistance -- but puts no real obligations on them. They have
repeatedly blocked progress, using the standard Communist negotiating tactic of
being inflexible in order to force the other parties to make concessions. Now
they are saying that they will sign the incomplete draft, but they are conditioning
their acceptance on their own proposal for arms limits. They have proposed
limits on 14 categories of weapons -- many of which they don't even have. They
are refusing to limit most of their major weapons systems or the size of their
Central American democracies have properly rejected this proposal and are
insisting that realistic arms levels be established. They are prepared to
continue working for a comprehensive agreement that will bring lasting peace to
the region. We seek a political solution in Nicaragua. What we want to see is
a democratic outcome with free and fair elections for all political parties,
where all potential candidates are given the opportunity to participate, and a
free and open society which will live at peace with its neighbors and its own
According to your earlier statements criticizing dictatorships of the left and
of the right, after what has happened in the Philippines and Haiti, do you think that the
downfall of the current governments in Paraguay and Chile is near? What is the
status of overall U.S. relations with Latin
The President. Any change of
government in either of those two countries would stem, of course, from
decisions made by the peoples of those nations, not the U.S. Our policy toward Chile and Paraguay is to support peaceful
and orderly transitions to full democratic rule and to encourage greater
respect for human rights. We try to implement this policy through communications
with both the Government and the democratic opposition in each country, with
the goal of promoting dialog between them.
for the second part of your question, our relations with Latin America are currently at one of
the highest levels in the history of our countries. The expansion of democracy
throughout the region in the last decade has reinforced the bond between us.
Our democratically elected governments represent the will of the people, and
this fact enables us to work more easily and more effectively together. Our
support to the majority of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, either in moving to
democracy or solidifying the existing democracies, has strengthened the ties
between our governments and our peoples. Together we are working to assure the
security of our peoples and our way of life.
The Group of the Six [nonaligned nations] has called for the suspension of
nuclear tests and the freezing of war arsenals. Do you think such an action is
viable at this time, taking into consideration your upcoming meeting with
Soviet leader Gorbachev? Also, keeping in mind the increasing tension in
East-West and North-South relations, do you think that violence could break out
not only at a regional but at the worldwide level?
The President. I think we all share
the eventual goal of a world totally free of nuclear weapons. But we differ on
whether a nuclear-testing moratorium truly contributes to this process. A
nuclear-testing moratorium is not in the security interests of the United States, its allies, and its
friends. Now, and for some time, the security of the United States, its allies, and its
friends must rely on a credible and effective nuclear deterrent. In my view,
this makes nuclear testing imperative.
the United States, therefore, a
comprehensive test ban (CTB) remains a long-term objective. Such a ban must be
viewed in the context of a time when we do not need to depend on nuclear
deterrence to ensure international security and stability and when we have
achieved broad, deep, and verifiable arms reductions,
substantially improved verification capabilities, expanded confidence-building
measures, and greater balance in conventional forces. For the near term, our
priority is to improve the verification provisions of existing limitations: the
Threshold Test Ban Treaty (TTBT) and the Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty
have recently opened expert-level discussions with the Soviets on the broad
range of nuclear-testing issues. We provided the Soviets with the details of
our verification concerns regarding the TTBT and PNET and advised them that
resolution of these concerns would enable us to move forward on their
ratification. We also heard and discussed Soviet concerns. In those discussions,
and in current arms control negotiations, we are hopeful of achieving progress
which would truly enhance security, stability, and peace. General Secretary
Gorbachev and I promised at our Geneva summit to accelerate
arms control negotiations, and the United States is working hard to
honor that pledge.
or capping nuclear weapons at their current high level just isn't good enough.
The world has too many nuclear arms. We need real cuts. I think we can achieve
genuine reductions in nuclear weapons in Geneva, which I think will
move us toward our ultimate objectives. A moratorium or a nuclear weapons
freeze will not. The United States seeks to enhance its
own security by promoting freedom and prosperity throughout the world. At the
same time, we must take account of the diversity of regional conflicts and the
conditions in which they arise. Most of the world's turbulence has indigenous
causes, and not every regional conflict should be viewed as part of the
General Secretary Gorbachev and I agreed at our summit meeting in Geneva that any conflict
between the U.S.S.R. and the United States could have catastrophic
consequences. We emphasized the importance of preventing any war between us,
whether conventional or nuclear, and we agreed that a nuclear war cannot be won
and must never be fought. Therefore, my administration has insisted that the
issue of regional security must have a prominent place on the agenda of
U.S.-Soviet relations. Since the Geneva summit we have had a
number of discussions with the Soviets on a wide range of regional issues. This
process has been very useful for us, and we intend to continue it.
U.S. World Role
Your early image of a charismatic man and of a typical American has
increasingly been projected towards that of a world public opinion leader --
criticized by many, but also authentic. What do you think of yourself and your
actions during the time you have been President of the United States? What do you think of
the country you received as President and of the country you will turn to your
successor when your term is over?
The President. Let me take those first
two questions together. I think the past 6 years have shown that America is back on its feet,
back to being the major force for progress and freedom in the world. Six years
ago we started working hard at home, restoring our defenses and putting our own
economic house in order. After rebuilding those strengths, we're able to play a
much stronger role in the world. I think we see that more clearly right here in
this hemisphere. Today over 90 percent of the people of Latin America and the Caribbean enjoy self-government,
compared to one-third only 6 years ago.
how did this progress occur? Most of it has to do with the courage and
determination of the people of Latin America, who have worked to
build democratic institutions despite threats from outside and subversion by
violent minorities within. But I believe the United States also made a
contribution through our military and economic assistance. So, both trends --
toward freedom and toward greater U.S. strength -- have
reinforced each other.
think we see this elsewhere in the world, too. You don't hear much anymore
about how the United States is ineffective abroad.
You don't hear much about our unwillingness to help our friends. And that's
because we've shown -- from Latin America to the Philippines, from the Middle East to Western Europe -- that we're
determined to stick by our principles and our friends and to promote those
principles wherever we think it's possible.
for your last question: The United States has always been a beacon to people
who aspire to liberty and self-government. That's as true today as it was in
1890, and it will be just as true in 1990. And if we've been able to strengthen
her over the past few years -- and I think we have -- then we'll have done what
the people of the United States elected us to do.
The interview took place in the Oval Office at the White House. The transcript
was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on August 19.