Radio Address to the Nation on the Situation in Nicaragua

March 15, 1986

My fellow Americans:

I'd like to speak to you this afternoon about a grave threat to our country and continent: the Communist regime in Nicaragua, a nation closer to our own southern border than Washington is to Kansas City. When the pro-Soviet regime took power in Nicaragua in 1979, it claimed to embrace the highest ideals of individual liberty and promised to hold free elections. What happened? Well, not democracy, but internal repression, imprisonment, and torture, the buildup of an army and militia of more than 120,000, and subversion throughout Central America.

Today Communist Nicaragua endangers our national security, it threatens our Caribbean sealanes, and still worse, it is intent on bringing the nations of Central America under Communist domination one by one -- a grim achievement that would send millions of refugees flooding into our Southern States. Yet grave as it is, this threat can be averted. The Congress now has before it legislation that would send help to the Nicaraguan freedom fighters, the more than 20,000 brave men and women struggling against the Communists who now control their country. This aid could enable the freedom fighters to reclaim Nicaragua for liberty and the West.

Tomorrow evening I'll discuss in full our proposal to aid the freedom fighters in a televised address from the Oval Office. For now, however, permit me to consider a single but central question: Why, many have asked, must we send the freedom fighters weapons? Why not try to achieve our objectives by negotiating with the Nicaraguan Communists instead? Well, the answer is simple: We've tried again and again. Since 1983 I have appointed three Special Envoys to Central America. These envoys have made 48 trips to the region, eager to engage in a serious dialog. Since June 1984 we have held not 1 but 10 high-level meetings with representatives of the Nicaraguan Communists. Each time we left emptyhanded. Just yesterday my Special Envoy, Philip Habib, returned from a 49th trip to Central America.

Other free nations, too, have attempted to engage the Sandinistas in good-faith negotiations. We have yet to see any concrete results. Nicaragua has indeed participated in the Contadora talks -- talks sponsored by Mexico, Panama, Colombia, and Venezuela -- only to balk any time agreements seem near. Last November, President Ortega said of a document his own representatives had helped to shape, and I quote, ``The peace document that the Contadora group submitted in September 1985 is unacceptable to Nicaragua.'' Well, recently the democratically elected President of El Salvador, Jose Napoleon Duarte, made a new and dramatic offer. If the Communists in Nicaragua agree to church-negotiated talks with their democratic opponents, President Duarte said then he would simultaneously agree to negotiate with the Soviet- and Nicaraguan-backed guerrillas in his country. Both the Nicaraguan Communists and the Salvadoran guerrillas whom they support rejected this offer.

Failed attempts by El Salvador and the Contadora group, rebuffed attempts on our part. By now the truth about negotiating with the Nicaragua Communists must be abundantly clear. Yes, the Communists might meet their opponents at the table, but only when they fear meeting them in the field. In the meantime, as recent revelations make clear, the Communists are only tightening their grip on Nicaragua. Somoza, the dictator the Sandinistas overthrew, had 1 prison; the Sandinistas have at least 10 new gulags. And new intelligence shows that Tomas Borge, the Communist Interior Minister, is engaging in a brutal campaign to bring the freedom fighters into discredit. You see, Borge's Communist operatives dress in freedom fighters' uniforms, go into the countryside, then murder and mutilate ordinary Nicaraguans.

This, then, is why I'm asking the Congress to provide the Nicaraguan freedom fighters not only with much needed humanitarian aid but with military supplies. They must be given the means to fight back. The freedom fighters seek not to destroy their Communist opponents but to liberate their country. Democracy -- this is all the freedom fighters ask. And all we're asking for is a democratic outcome, because a democratic Central America is vital to the security of our continent and nation. Now that negotiations with the Nicaraguan Communists have failed again and again, the time has come for Congress to give the freedom fighters what they need for their struggle for democracy to succeed.

Until tomorrow evening from the Oval Office, thanks for listening, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:06 p.m. from Camp David, MD.