Remarks to Civic Leaders
at a White House Briefing on Aid to the Nicaraguan Democratic Resistance
January 22, 1988
good afternoon, and welcome to the White House. I know that you're going to be
briefed today on the situation in Central America, so I thought I'd use our
time together not in giving you a great deal of background but, very simply, to
tell you why I asked the Congress to provide aid to the Nicaraguan democratic
resistance, the freedom fighters. Providing aid to the freedom fighters will do
much to decide whether the people of Nicaragua ever possess the
liberty that we Americans cherish so much. What I'd like to do is tell you four
stories -- and they're four true stories. Among them, I believe, they express
everything that needs to be said.
setting for the first is Managua itself. The date was
just 12 days ago, Sunday, January 10th. The event was a march by 10,000 people
through the streets of the Nicaraguan capital to mark the 10th anniversary of
the death of newspaper publisher Pedro Joaquin Chamorro. Chamorro was killed by
gunmen -- gunmen believed to have been supporters of the former dictator, Anastasio Somoza. Yet instead of celebrating the Sandinista
regime that overthrew Somoza, the marchers demonstrated against the Communist
regime. There were chants of ``Communists, get out!'' One speaker told the
crowd, ``The people aren't afraid anymore.'' Another
said, ``This is the beginning of democracy, and it
can't end today.''
a week ago Sunday, when this march took place, it had been a full 8\1/2\ years
since the Marxist Sandinistas had overthrown Somoza and established their own
regime. We in the United States rightly ask whether the
Sandinistas have the support of the Nicaraguan people, and 8\1/2\
years is certainly long enough for a people to get to know the true
nature of their rulers. Those 10,000 marchers answered our question. Rejection
of the Communist regime is not, as some would have it, limited to a few
reactionary holdovers from the Somoza years. It runs deep -- very deep -- among
the people themselves. When you hear the second story I'd like to share with
you, I think you'll begin to understand why.
was captured by Sandinista soldiers. His crime? He was
an evangelical minister, a man of God. The soldiers bound him to a tree, beat
him, then used a bayonet to cut off his ears and slit his throat. The soldiers'
commander told them Baltodano wasn't ``worth wasting
a bullet.'' ``Let him die suffering,'' the commander said. As they left him
bleeding, the soldiers taunted him, ``Pray and see if God will save you.''
God did save PrudencioBaltodano,
and just last week he was reunited in Washington, here, with his wife
and six children. You see, a church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, has sponsored Reverend
Baltodano and his family. The church and some other
American friends worked to get his wife and children here to the United States from a refugee camp in Costa Rica, to provide them with
clothing, and to help them find housing. To me, the help Mr. Baltodano and his family are being given here in the United States is just as important a
part of the story as the suffering they endured in Central America. It reminds us that
when we see someone in trouble, when we see someone suffering, we Americans
reach out to help. And I'm delighted to see Reverend Baltodano
here with us. Welcome!
the people in Nicaragua need our help. That's
the meaning of this coming congressional vote. For there can be no doubt that
under the Sandinistas the people of Nicaragua are suffering -- suffering from
the suppression of civil liberties, suffering materially from a national
economy that has collapsed under Communist interference and control. It's my
firm belief that these are grounds enough for helping the freedom fighters:
that when our nation sees neighbors who need help and when it's within our
power to extend that help, then it is our duty to do so. Yet as I tell you the
third story, you'll see that there is still another reason for us to assist the
freedom fighters of Nicaragua. Simply put, the
security of Central
and our own nation is at stake.
October 25th of last year, a high-level member of the Sandinista staff entered
the American Embassy in Mexico City and requested political
asylum. Major Roger Miranda had been a top aide to Humberto
Ortega. Humberto Ortega is in charge of the
Sandinista military and the brother of the President, Daniel Ortega, the leader of the Communist regime in Nicaragua. American officials
spent weeks debriefing Major Miranda. And then, last December, he was
interviewed by a number of news organizations. When the Sandinistas learned
that Major Miranda's revelations would be made public, they apparently decided
that they had nothing to lose by admitting to them. At a gathering in Managua, Humberto
Ortega confirmed some of Major Miranda's most damaging disclosures.
In Ortega's own words, Nicaragua has ``a few thousand
officers in Cuba and the Soviet Union studying the use of
The Sandinista Communists are training Salvadoran rebels in Managua to use surface-to-air
missiles, missiles that could sharply escalate the violence in that country.
The Communists in Nicaragua have made secret
agreements with the Soviet Union, Cuba, and East-bloc nations.
Major Miranda stated, and Humberto Ortega publicly
confirmed, that these pacts call for the Soviet Union and its satellites to
help the Sandinistas arm and train 600,000 army troops and civilian militia by
me to put that figure into perspective. Six hundred thousand troops will
represent one-fifth of the entire population of Nicaragua. It will be as if the United States had Armed Forces of
nearly 49 million. But the comparisons with other nations in Central America are more significant. Nicaragua's neighbor to the
north, El Salvador, has a population of 5
million, but a military of only some 43,000. Honduras has a population of
over 4\1/2\ million, a military of only 14,600. Costa Rica, Nicaragua's neighbor to the
south, has a population of 2.6 million and no armed forces. Even Mexico, with a population of
over 80 million -- by far the largest nation in the region -- even Mexico has a military of only
some 140,000, less than one-fourth the force of 600,000 that the Communists of
Nicaragua plan to have in a matter of only a few years.
meaning of what Major Miranda and Humberto Ortega
have stated is clear. The Communist regime in Nicaragua represents a threat to
the entire region of Central America. And if it represents a
threat to the region that adjoins our southern borders, it represents a threat
to us. Already, hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguan refugees have left their
country. It is by no means difficult to visualize a situation in which hundreds
of thousands of Central Americans seek to escape violence and instability by
streaming toward the American Southwest.
fourth story occurred just last weekend, when the leaders of the five Central
American nations met to examine compliance with the Guatemala accord. There's no
doubt as to their conclusion: The Sandinistas are the biggest obstacle to
fulfillment of the plan and to peace and democracy in the region. While the
four Central American democracies are in substantial compliance, the
Sandinistas are nowhere near. Even the Sandinistas had to admit as much,
issuing a separate declaration that outlined additional steps they felt
compelled to announce so as to put their behavior in a better light.
is clear, as you can see, why we must keep the pressure on the Sandinistas so
that they can't reverse course, so that they keep walking down that road to
democracy, because each step they've taken, each reluctant reform, is still
easily undone. The Sandinistas have said their revolution will spread. Our goal
in Nicaragua must be to make sure
it's democracy and freedom that spreads.
welcome the Sandinistas' new promises to abide by the peace plan, but we must
hold them to their word. We must make sure that each time the Sandinistas walk
through a new door toward democracy we close it behind them -- and keep it
closed. Only the freedom fighters can do that; only they can be our insurance
policy for democracy in Central America.
let me add something else: Once a cease-fire is in place in Nicaragua and significant
progress is being made toward a real and lasting political settlement, the United States is prepared to join in
regional security discussions. Our goal is the same as those democracies we've
seen emerge in the other Central American countries, the same as those who've
been fighting for the freedom they were promised 8\1/2\ years ago: an
opportunity for all people in that region to have the right to peace, freedom,
say that the freedom fighters are not necessary to keep the pressure on, that
the spotlight of world opinion and the Sandinistas' sworn commitment to the Guatemala accord are enough.
Well, perhaps it's worth reviewing the historical record to see just how much
faith we can put in Sandinista promises. As I pointed out in my recent address
to the Organization of American States, we already have a negotiated settlement
with the Sandinistas -- the settlement of 1979 -- in which the United States,
together with the other members of7E 7E the7E 7E OAS,7E
7E took7E 7E the7E 7E unprecedented7E 7E action7E 7E of7E 7E withdrawing7E 7E
recognition7E 7E from a sitting government -- the Somoza government -- and
helped bring the Sandinistas to power. As part of that settlement, the
Sandinistas promised -- and I'm citing from documents issued by the Sandinistas
-- ``free elections, a broad-based democratic government, full guarantee of
human rights, fundamental liberties, freedom of religion, union rights, a mixed
economy, an independent foreign policy of nonalignment, and a minimum permanent
it's simply stating the obvious to point out that the Sandinistas have not
honored a single one of those promises that they made to all the other states
of North and South
What isn't as widely understood, however, is that we now have documented proof
that they never intended to. Barely 2 months after
assuming power, the Sandinista leadership met secretly
to draft a report known as the 72-hour document, outlining their plans to establish
a Communist dictatorship in Nicaragua and spread subversion
Sandinistas and their supporters say it was the belligerence of the United States that forced them to go
back on their promises, just as they now put all the blame for their
shortcomings on the freedom fighters. Well, again, let's examine the historical
record -- our belligerence.
a day after the Sandinistas finished meeting secretly to draft the 72-hour
document, President Carter received Daniel Ortega in the White House and
offered his new government our friendship and help. But while we sent the
Sandinistas over $100 million in aid -- more than they received from any other
country at that time -- the Sandinistas were busy carrying out their plans to
eliminate human rights and impose a Marxist totalitarian regime in Nicaragua.
months after the meeting in the White House, while U.S. aid was still flowing,
several Sandinista comandantes took their first
official trip to Moscow -- the first of many -- and signed a communique with the Soviet Communist Party expressing
support for the foreign policy goals of the Soviet Union. But that, one might
say, was merely the paperwork. Already, Soviet military planners were in Nicaragua. Over 30 new military
bases were either built or in the process of construction by the time I came
into office in 1981. The Sandinista army was becoming the largest, best
supplied in all Central America, and the Sandinistas were already
assisting the Communist guerrillas in El Salvador -- all while American
aid flowed to Nicaragua, while our hand was
extended in friendship.
I could go on to detail the systematic crushing of all human rights, but my
purpose here is to ask a simple question: How can we expect a regime that has
compiled such a history of broken promises and corruption to abide by the terms
of the Guatemala accord unless we keep up the pressure by continuing the aid to
the freedom fighters?
in this country talk as if the Sandinistas would reform if we would just let
them alone, but that's not what the Sandinistas themselves say. Just 5 weeks
ago, Daniel Ortega made his true intentions clear: Even if there were elections
in Nicaragua and the Sandinistas
lost, he said, they would never give up power. The Soviets have made their
choice. They and the allies have poured billions of dollars of military aid
into Nicaragua -- at least 20 times
more than the U.S. Congress has given to the forces of the democratic
less than 2 weeks, the American Congress and the American people will have to
make their choice, too. As I said, this is the moment of truth, the
make-or-break vote on the freedom fighters. If we abandon them now, if Congress
votes down aid, we will be abandoning the only real cause for peace and freedom
and democracy in Nicaragua.
have the testimony of brave men and women who are speaking to us of things
they've seen and heard, the testimony of the 10,000
who marched in Nicaragua, of PrudencioBaltodano and Major Miranda. The freedom fighters are
fighting for all of these and, yes, for us, for our own security.
let us move to help them. Thank you, and God bless you
Note: The President
spoke at in the East Room at the White House.