Remarks to the Central American Peace Scholarship Program Participants

 

July 30, 1987

 

I know that all the students here have been studying the language as well as technical skills, so you'll probably understand my English much better than my Spanish. But I'm going to have a try at it anyway: Buenos dias, y bienvenidos en la Casa Blanca. [Good day, and welcome to the White House.] It's a genuine pleasure to welcome all of you here -- Senators and Congressmen and the private citizens and government officials who've worked so hard throughout the years to further the cause of peace in Central America. And all of us are especially pleased to welcome these fine young men and women, our neighbors from the south, who've come to study in the United States. We see in you the hope and the future of Central America.

 

The room we're meeting in couldn't be more full of historical significance. We call it the Roosevelt Room, after two of our United States Presidents, Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt. They came from opposite political parties. One was a Republican, the other a Democrat. There were a lot of things they probably wouldn't have agreed on, but there was one subject on which they saw eye to eye: that from Tierra del Fuego to the upper reaches of Baffin Bay, we are all Americans, brothers and sisters with a shared history and a common birthright -- freedom.

 

Our efforts to protect that birthright, to make it real for every American, is what brings us here together today. In 1983 I appointed the National Bipartisan Commission on Central America -- what's become known as the Kissinger commission -- to help us come to a better understanding of that troubled region. Their report was blunt and compelling: The crisis in Central America is, to quote them, ``real and acute'' and ``the stakes are large, for the United States, for the hemisphere, and most poignantly, for the people of Central America.'' The roots of that crisis, the complex problems of the region -- economic, social, political, and military -- are all part of a ``seamless web,'' the report said, requiring a sustained response in all areas, from the United States and the free world.

 

We responded immediately with a multiyear, multibillion-dollar program of economic assistance, and one that we hope to extend and expand in the nineties. Based on the Kissinger commission recommendations, Congress and the executive branch have worked together to develop programs that have strengthened democratic institutions; helped stabilize economies; and improved health and nutrition; built better housing, water, sewage, and other infrastructures. The fact is, our military assistance has only been a modest fraction of our overall economic aid.

 

Dr. Silber, one of the members of the Commission, was the inspiration for this scholarship program. Senator Kasten, who is also here with us today, was instrumental in Congress making it a reality. And since the program has started, over 4,100 Central American students have studied in the United States, many under the guiding hand of Father Harold Bradley, of Georgetown University. Congratulations to you all!

 

I know the students have learned much in their studies here, but sometimes I think an even greater benefit of these programs is the education it gives us in the United States, because seeing you here brings the reality of your homelands -- the great hope and the great peril -- so much closer to us all. Seeing you here, we realize that we cannot be agnostic in this struggle, that we cannot be aloof and uncaring; because in a very real sense, our fates and our futures are intertwined as one.

 

It was this face-to-face contact, this immersion in the problems of Central America, that forged the bipartisan consensus of the Kissinger commission -- representatives of both parties united on common ground. It's important to remember some of the men who did such fine work on that Commission: AFL - CIO president Lane Kirkland; Governor Bill Clements of Texas; Robert Strauss, then chairman of the Democratic party; the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart; Dr. John Silber, of course; and Richard M. Scammon. That list isn't complete, but it gives a good idea of the stature and wide representation of the Commission. Democrat and Republican, representing government, academia, business, and labor -- they defined the bipartisan mainstream response to the crisis in Central America, one that this administration has been diligently following. There was no partisan disagreement on their assignment to the crisis. It had both indigenous and foreign roots. And with the exception of two members, there was no disagreement on the need for a sustained response that included both economic and military aid.

 

Finally, I just want to say to you students: Since you've been in places like Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Pewaukee, Wisconsin, I know you've seen the heart of America. I come from that neighborhood myself, which is between those two States -- Illinois. But I know that Americans are so pleased that you've been able to be here so that they can get to know you better. This is just the kind of freedom that we as a country believe in: giving a helping hand so that you, in turn, can help those in your countries.

 

And I'm going to be brave again, maybe foolhardy, and say that though you'll soon be traveling back to your own countries, siempre estaran en nuestros corazones. Vayan con Dios! [you will always be in our hearts. Go with God!]

 

Thank you all. God bless you.

 

[At this point, Oscar Rosales, representing the students, thanked the President for the opportunity to study in the United States.]

 

Reporter. Mr. President, how serious is your nose, sir? How are you feeling, sir? How are you feeling, sir? How serious is your nose?

 

The President. Oh, my nose gets laughs all the time. [Laughter] What he's talking about is I went out in the sun too much and -- [laughter] -- had to do a little peeling here on the end of my nose.

 

Q. How concerned are you about tomorrow, sir?

 

The President. No more than about any other tomorrow -- [laughter] --  --

 

Q. How do you feel?

 

Q. Are you going to stay overnight in the hospital?

 

The President.  --  -- and even a little finer and inspired after coming in here with these young people.

 

Thank you all.

 

Note: The President spoke at 1:35 p.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. In the exchange with reporters following his remarks, the President referred to the basal cell carcinoma on his nose, which was removed at Bethesda Naval Medical Center on July 31.