Address to the Nation on
Aid to the Nicaraguan Democratic Resistance
February 2, 1988
want to begin tonight by telling a story, a true story of courage and hope. It
concerns a small nation to our south, El Salvador, and the struggle of
its people to throw off years of violence and oppression and live in freedom.
4 years ago, I addressed you as I do tonight and asked for your help in our efforts
to support those brave people against a Communist insurgency. That was one of
the hardest fought political battles of this administration. The people of El Salvador, we heard, weren't
ready for democracy. The only choice was between the left-wing guerrillas and
the violent right, and many insisted that it was the guerrillas that truly had
the backing of the people. But with your support, we were able to send help in
time. Our package of military aid for El Salvador passed Congress by only
four votes, but it passed.
of you may remember those stirring scenes as the people of El Salvador braved Communist
gunfire to turn out in record numbers at the polls and vote emphatically for
democracy. Observers told of one woman, wounded in a Communist attack, who refused to leave the line at the polls to have her
wounds treated until after she had voted. They told of another woman who
defiantly answered Communist death threats saying, ``You
can kill me. You can kill my family. You can kill my neighbors. But you can't
kill us all.'' Well, that's the voice of the people determined to be free. That
is the voice of the people of Central America.
these last several years, there have been many such times when your support for
assistance saved the day for democracy. The story of what has happened in that
region is one of the most inspiring in the history of freedom. Today El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, as well as Costa Rica choose their
governments in free and open democratic elections. Independent courts protect
their human rights, and their people can hope for a better life for themselves
and their children. It is a record of success that should make us proud, but
the record is as yet incomplete.
this is a map of Central America. As I said, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Costa Rica are all friendly and
democratic. In their midst, however, lies a threat that could reverse the
democratic tide and plunge the region into a cycle of chaos and subversion.
That is the Communist regime in Nicaragua called the Sandinistas,
a regime whose allies range from Communist dictator Fidel Castro of Cuba to terrorist-supporter Qadhafi of Libya. But their most important ally is the Soviet Union.
Cuban and Soviet-bloc aid, Nicaragua is being transformed
into a beachhead for aggression against the United States. It is the first step
in a strategy to dominate the entire region of Central America and threaten Mexico and the Panama Canal. That's why the cause
of freedom in Central
is united with our national security. That is why the safety of democracy to
our south so directly affects the safety of our own nation.
the people of Nicaragua love freedom just as
much as those in El Salvador. You see, when it
became clear the direction the Sandinistas were taking, many who had fought
against the old dictatorship literally took to the hills; and like the French
resistance that fought the Nazis in World War II, they have been fighting the
Communist Sandinistas ever since.
are the forces of the democratic resistance. The Communist government named
them contras, but the truth is they're freedom fighters. Their tenacious
struggle has helped buy the surrounding democracies precious time, and with
their heroic efforts, they are helping give freedom a chance in Nicaragua. A year-and-a-half ago,
Congress first approved significant military aid for the freedom fighters.
Since then they've been winning major victories in the field and doing what
many at first thought impossible: bringing the Communist Sandinistas to the
negotiating table and forcing them to negotiate seriously.
the beginning, the United States has made every effort
to negotiate a peace settlement -- bilaterally, multilaterally, in other
diplomatic settings. My envoys have traveled to the region on at least 40
different occasions. But until this last year, these negotiations dragged on
fruitlessly, because the Sandinistas had no incentive to change. Last August,
however, with mounting pressure from the freedom fighters, the Sandinistas
signed the Guatemala peace plan.
time, the leaders of the four Central American democracies refused to let the
peace negotiations become an empty exercise. When Nicaragua missed the second
deadline for compliance, the democratic leaders courageously stood as one to
insist that the Sandinistas live up to their signed commitments to democratic
reform. Their failure to do so, said the democratic leaders, was the biggest
obstacle to peace in the region. The Sandinistas are clearly feeling the pressure
and are beginning to take limited steps. Yet at this crucial moment, there are
those who want to cut off assistance to the freedom fighters and take the
the House of Representatives will be voting on a $36 million bill, a support
package to the freedom fighters. Ninety percent is for nonlethal
support, such as food, clothing, and medicine, and the means to deliver it. Ten
percent is for ammunition. That amount will be suspended until March 31st to
determine whether the Sandinistas are taking irreversible steps toward
democracy. I'm hopeful this will occur. However, if there is no progress toward
a negotiated cease-fire, I'll make a decision to release these additional
supplies, but only after weighing carefully and thoroughly the advice from
Congress and the democratic Presidents of Central America.
over the past several days, I've met with many Members of Congress, Republicans
and Democrats, concerning my proposal. In the spirit of bipartisanship, I will,
tomorrow, send a letter to the congressional leadership taking a further step.
At the appropriate time, I will invite Congress to act by what is called a
sense of Congress resolution on the question of whether the Government of
Nicaragua is in compliance with the San Jose declaration. If
Congress adopts such a resolution within 10 days containing this finding, then
I will honor this action and withhold deliveries of ammunition in this package.
thing is clear: Those brave freedom fighters cannot be left unarmed against
Communist tyranny. Now, some say that military supplies aren't necessary, that
humanitarian aid is enough. But there's nothing humanitarian about asking
people to go up against Soviet helicopter gunships
with nothing more than boots and bandages. There's no vote scheduled tomorrow
in the Soviet
on continued assistance to the Sandinistas. That assistance will continue, and
it won't be just humanitarian.
policy of negotiations backed by the freedom fighters is working. Like the
brave freedom fighters in Afghanistan who have faced down the Soviet Army and
convinced the Soviet Union that it must negotiate its withdrawal from their
country, the freedom fighters in Nicaragua can win the day for democracy in
Central America. But our support is needed now; tomorrow will be too late. If
we cut them off, the freedom fighters will soon begin to wither as an effective
force. Then with the pressure lifted, the Sandinistas will be free to continue
the consolidation of their totalitarian regime -- the military buildup --insideNicaragua, and Communist
subversion of their neighbors.
today, with the spotlight of world opinion focused on the peace process, the
Sandinistas openly boast that they are arming and training Salvadoran
guerrillas. We know that the Sandinistas, who talk of a revolution without
borders reaching to Mexico, have already
infiltrated guerrillas into neighboring countries. Imagine what they'll do if
the pressure is lifted. What will be our response as the ranks of the
guerrillas in El Salvador, Guatemala, even Honduras and unarmed Costa Rica,
begin to swell and those fragile democracies are ripped apart by the strain? By
then the freedom fighters will be disbanded, refugees, or worse. They won't be
able to come back.
me explain why this should be and would be such a tragedy, such a danger to our
national security. If we return to the map for a moment, we can see the
strategic location of Nicaragua -- close to our
southern border, within striking distance of the Panama Canal. Domination of Central America would be an
unprecedented strategic victory for the Soviet Union and its allies, and
they're willing to pay for it. Cubans are now in Nicaragua constructing military
facilities, flying combat missions, and helping run the secret police. The Soviet Union and Soviet-bloc
countries have sent over $4 billion in arms and military aid and economic aid
-- 20 times the amount that the United States has provided the
democratic freedom fighters. If Congress votes tomorrow against aid, our
assistance will very quickly come to an end, but Soviet deliveries won't.
must ask ourselves why the Soviet Union, beset by an economic
crisis at home, is spending billions of dollars to subsidize the military
buildup in Nicaragua. Backed by some 2,000
Cuban and Soviet-bloc advisers, the Sandinista military is the largest Central America has ever seen. Warsaw
Pact engineers are completing a deep-water port on the Caribbean coast similar to the
naval base in Cuba for Soviet submarines.
And the recently expanded airfields outside Managua can handle any aircraft
in the Soviet arsenal, including the Bear bomber, whose 5,200-mile range covers
most of the continental United States.
this is only the beginning. Last October a high-ranking Sandinista officer,
Roger Miranda, defected to this country, bringing with him a series of 5-year
plans -- drawn up among the Sandinistas, Soviets, and Cubans -- for a massive
military buildup in Nicaragua extending through 1995.
These plans, which Major Miranda makes clear are to be
put into effect whether the freedom fighters receive aid or not, call for
quadrupling the Sandinista armed forces to 600,000 or one out of every five
men, women, and children in the country.
I speak to you tonight, several thousand Nicaraguans are taking courses in the Soviet Union and Cuba to learn to operate new
high-tech missiles, artillery, and other advanced weapons systems. Of grave
concern is the fact that the Soviets have scheduled delivery of Soviet MiG aircraft to Nicaragua. Now, if these were
just the claims of one defector, no matter how highly placed and credible, some
might still find reason to doubt. But even before Major Miranda's revolutions
[revelations] were made public, his old boss, Defense Minister Humberto Ortega, confirmed them in a public speech, adding
that if Nicaragua chose to acquire MiG's it was none of our business. The introduction of MiG's into Nicaragua would be so serious an
escalation that members of both parties in the Congress have said the United States simply cannot tolerate
Miranda revelations can't help but make us skeptical of the recent Sandinista
promises to abide by the Guatemala peace accord. The
argument is made that the freedom fighters are unnecessary, that we can trust
the Sandinistas to keep their word. Can we? It's important to remember that we
already have a negotiated settlement with the Sandinistas: the settlement of
1979 that helped bring them to power, in which they promised, in writing,
democracy, human rights, and a nonaligned foreign policy.
course, they haven't kept a single one of those promises, and we now know that
they never intended to. Barely 2 months after assuming power, the Sandinista leadership drafted a secret report called the
72-hour document, outlining their plans to establish a Communist dictatorship
in Nicaragua and spread subversion
This is the document in which they detailed their deception. It is now part of
the public record, available for all to see.
day after that 72-hour meeting, President Carter, unaware of their secret
plans, received Daniel Ortega here in the White House and offered his new
government our friendship and help, sending over $100 million in aid -- more
than any other country at the time -- and arranging for millions more in loans.
The Sandinistas say it was U.S. belligerence that drove
them into the hands of the Soviets -- some belligerence. A
short while later, the Sandinista comandantes made
their first official trip to Moscow and
signed a communique expressing support for the
foreign policy goals of the Soviet Union. But that, one might
say, was only the paperwork. Already, Soviet military planners were in Nicaragua, and the Sandinista
subversion of El Salvador had begun -- all while
our hand was extended in friendship.
is not a record that gives one much faith in Sandinista promises. Recently,
Daniel Ortega was up in Washington again, this time
talking to Members of Congress, giving them assurances of his commitment to the
Guatemala peace process. But we
now know that at the same time, back in Managua, the Sandinistas were
drawing up plans for a massive military escalation in Nicaragua and aggression against
their neighbors. Now, as the Sandinistas see the vote on aid to the freedom
fighters nearing, they are making more promises. Well, forgive my skepticism,
but I kind of feel that every time they start making promises -- like that
fellow in the Isuzu commercial -- there should be subtitles under them telling
the real story.
may hope they're sincere this time, but it hardly seems wise to stake the
future of Central
and the national security of the United States on it. The freedom
fighters are our insurance policy in case the Sandinistas once again go back on
their word. The Sandinistas themselves admit that the limited steps they have
taken to comply with the peace accords were promised in order to influence the
vote in Congress. Was there ever a better argument for aid?
now, with the entire world watching, the Sandinistas have harassed and beaten
human rights activists and arrested several leaders of the peaceful democratic
opposition, including the editor of La Prensa. Before
being interrogated, some were sealed for over an hour in metal lockers, 3 feet
square on the floor and 7 feet high. Said one comandante
of the opposition: ``They are scorpions. They should return to their holes, or
we will crush them.''
a short while ago, the Sandinistas made their true intentions clear. Even if
they were forced to hold elections and lost, they said they would never give up
power. Responding to the estimate that the Sandinistas have no more than
15-percent popular support, another comandante
responded by saying: ``That's all right. We can hold
on to power with only 5 percent.'' Now, these are not the words, these are not
the actions, of democratic reformers.
who want to cut off the freedom fighters must explain why we should believe the
promises the Sandinista Communists make trying to influence Congress, but not
the threats they make at home. They must explain why we should listen to them
when they promise peace and not when they talk of turning all Central America into one
``revolutionary fire'' and boast of carrying their fight to Latin America and Mexico.
we cut off aid to the freedom fighters, then the Sandinistas can go back to
their old ways. Then the negotiations can become, once again, what they were
before: high-blown words and promises and convenient cover, while the
Sandinista Communists continue the consolidation of their dictatorial regime
and the subversion of Central America. During the last vote
in Congress, many who voted for aid to the freedom fighters set conditions on
further assistance. They said the freedom fighters must broaden their
leadership; they have. They said the freedom fighters must show that they are a
viable fighting force and win support from the people. Well, the latest victory
in the Las Minas area proved that.
several weeks, nearly 7,000 freedom fighters maneuvered in secret throughout
the country -- something they could only have done with support of the
population. In one of the largest military operations in Nicaraguan history,
they overran enemy headquarters, routed army barracks, blew
up ammunition dumps, petroleum tanks, and other military targets. At one point,
they captured a warehouse where grain was being hoarded for the army. The
freedom fighters opened the doors and invited the hungry people of the area to
take what they needed.
freedom fighters are inside Nicaragua today because we made a
commitment to them. They have done what Congress asked: They have proven their
effectiveness. Can we, as a moral people, a moral nation, withdraw that
commitment now and leave them at the mercy of the Sandinista regime or turn
them forever into refugees -- refugees from the country for which they are
making such a heroic sacrifice?
message will that send to the world, to our allies and friends in freedom? What
message will it send to our adversaries -- thatAmerica is a fair-weather
friend, an unreliable ally? Don't count on us, because we may not be there to
back you up when the going gets a little rough.
fighting to win back their country, the freedom fighters are preventing the
permanent consolidation of a Soviet military presence on the American mainland.
By fighting for their freedom, they're helping to protect our national
security. We owe them our thanks, not abandonment.
talk of containment, but we must not repeat the mistake we made in Cuba. If containment didn't
work for that island nation, how much less effective will it be for an
expansionist Soviet ally on the American mainland. I will tell you truthfully
tonight: There will be no second chances tomorrow. If Congress votes down aid,
the freedom fighters may soon be gone, and with them all effective pressure on
goal in Nicaragua is simple: peace and
democracy. Our policy has consistently supported the efforts of those who seek
democracy throughout Central America and who recognize that
the freedom fighters are essential to that process. So, my fellow Americans,
there can be no mistake about this vote: It is up or down for Central America. It is win or lose for peace and freedom. It is yes
or no to America's national security.
friends, I've often expressed my belief that the Almighty had a reason for
placing this great and good land, the New World, here between two vast
oceans. Protected by the seas, we have enjoyed the blessings of peace -- free
for almost two centuries now from the tragedy of foreign aggression on our
mainland. Help us to keep that precious gift secure. Help us to win support for
those who struggle for the same freedoms we hold dear. In doing so, we will not
just be helping them, we will be helping ourselves,
our children, and all the peoples of the world. We'll be demonstrating that America is still a beacon of
hope, still a light unto the nations.
a great opportunity awaits us, an opportunity to show that hope still burns
bright in this land and over our continent, casting a glow across the
centuries, still guiding millions to a future of peace and freedom. Thank you, and God bless you.
Note: The President
spoke at from the Oval Office at the White House. The address was
broadcast live by Cable Network News and CONUS Communications. The three major
television networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, declined to broadcast the address.