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Public Papers - 1990 - April

Remarks at a White House Briefing on Nicaragua

1990-04-16

The President. Welcome to the White House. Bernie, have you been on yet?

Assistant Secretary Aronson. Yes, sir.

The President. Okay then. As you've just heard from Bernie Aronson, our chief Latin American expert, we are committed to the future of Nicaragua under democracy. And I think Fred Zeder, esteemed head of OPIC, will be briefing you in a minute; Jim Berg, of OPIC also; and Fred Schieck, of AID. And in these presentations I think that you all realize -- and most of you know it already -- that this is a time of tremendous change and hope and, indeed, opportunity.

Less than 2 months ago, there were a lot of pollsters looking for work after the Nicaraguan elections. But I don't think we should have been too surprised. I think the skepticism was, well, would the elections be free and fair. But given the choice, a free and fair choice between democracy and totalitarianism, people all around the world are opting for democracy. In the 7 weeks since the people have cast their ballots for peace and freedom, real progress has been made in negotiating what is really a difficult transition leading up to a peaceful transfer of power.

I've spoken several times with President-elect Violeta Chamorro since the election; and she really is, for those of you who have not met her, a woman of great moral courage, an inspiration to the people of her nation. And when she takes office in just 10 days -- 9 days from now, on the 25th -- Nicaragua will close a painful chapter in its history and begin a new story, a new life in democracy. I have pledged to Mrs. Chamorro that the United States Government would respond in Nicaragua's hour of need.

I've called on the Congress to create what we call the Fund for Democracy, a fund to assist Nicaragua and its neighbor in Central America, Panama, as these two countries take their first critical steps on the road to democracy. I was gratified that the Congress, before adjournment, began action on our aid package, which includes 0 million for Nicaragua, but I'm disappointed that Congress failed to take the final steps to make the funds available before the Easter recess. That's why today I wanted to come here and to renew my plea to the United States Senate to act immediately when Congress reconvenes this week. Nicaragua and, of course, Panama, too, need these funds. With democracy at stake, there is simply no time for delay.

Government aid is crucial, but we all know that government aid alone cannot solve all the problems of Nicaragua. The business of democracy-building is a task that requires strong and steady support from the private sector, from individuals like many of you out here and those institutions that you represent.

Right now in Nicaragua I'd say the real hard work is just beginning. For the past decade, that nation has experienced terrible starvation and deprivation. And its energies were consumed, just eaten up, in that bitter civil war; its economy slowly strangled by a system of central control and mismanagement. Those days really have ended with the return of democracy. I'm told by Bernie and others that there's a new sense of confidence there in Nicaragua -- people ready to roll up their sleeves and ready to turn things around, to build the institutions of free government and free enterprise and then create a climate for growth, to plant the seeds of peace and prosperity.

So, today I wanted to thank all of you for showing this interest, for coming here to the White House and meeting with these top members of our administration on this key question. I believe the United States of America has a great deal at stake in the success of Violeta Chamorro, but more so in democracy itself in Nicaragua.

I know that some of you are leaving tomorrow to go down there on a mission under the auspices of a private development group called Caribbean/Central American Action. And I know that OPIC is now planning a mission of its own the first week in June. I might say parenthetically that OPIC is a dynamic organization, bringing investment and thus hope to countries all around the world now, as this new season of democracy is upon us.

I hope all of you here and all of you who take part in these special trips find it worthwhile to invest in Nicaragua. When you do, you'll be doing more than business, because I think you will really be showing the flag for, and your confidence in, democracy itself.

So, I really just want to scoot on over and wish you the very best, and please follow through. We need your commitment, and certainly Violeta Chamorro and the others that believe in democracy need your help. Thank you all very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 1:38 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. In his remarks, he referred to Bernard W. Aronson, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs; Fred M. Zeder, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC); James D. Berg, Executive Vice President of OPIC; and Frederick W. Schieck, Acting Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Agency for International Development.

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