March 22, 1986

My fellow Americans:

Last Thursday the House of Representatives voted on a proposal to send aid to the freedom fighters of Nicaragua, the men and women struggling against the Communists who control their country. This proposal was designed to protect our own southern borders and give the freedom fighters the chance to reclaim their nation for liberty. It would've required no new money whatsoever, but would simply have used funds already approved by Congress for defense. By a margin of 12, the House voted no.

Every day that this vote is permitted to stand, every day that freedom fighters are left defenseless against Soviet helicopter gunships, more lives will be lost, and the dangers will grow from this Soviet beachhead on our continent. Already the Soviets have armed Nicaragua with tanks, antiaircraft missiles, and helicopter gunships. So-called advisers from the Soviet Union, East Germany, and Cuba swarm Nicaragua in the thousands and have helped the Nicaraguan Communists to build an army and militia of 120,000 -- by far the biggest armed force that Central America has ever seen.

But that is not all. The Sandinistas have openly admitted that they intend to spread their Communist revolution throughout Latin America. But the Nicaraguan freedom fighters have handed the Communists a setback. Although outnumbered and underequipped, the freedom fighters have pinned down thousands of Sandinista troops and countless military assets. With their blood and courage, they have bought the people of other Central American nations the precious time they need to strengthen their democracies. And, in helping to thwart the aggressive designs of the Nicaraguan Communists and their Soviet-bloc accomplices, they have directly contributed to the safety of the United States and the American people. We owe the freedom fighters a vote of thanks, not a vote of no confidence. I cannot accept the House action as final, for I cannot believe that it reflects the informed and considered will of the American people.

Next week the effort to provide aid to the freedom fighters will move to the Senate. Our proposal, as it now stands, including its provision to give the freedom fighters defensive weapons immediately, represents the absolute minimum of assistance to which I can agree. Any less would be too little, any further delay would be too late. We speak not of a game in which one side can call ``time out'' to consider its options; we speak of a life and death struggle for liberty. The Soviet gunships will not halt their operations while we debate. The House vote must be reversed, and soon. I urge the Senate to vote on the aid program promptly and the House to take the matter up once again as its next item of business.

Some of our critics insist that even the minimal assistance we're requesting is too much, and negotiations alone are the answer. Well, I must remind them that the Sandinista Communists have already concluded negotiations -- in 1979 with the Organization of American States. In that agreement, the Communists promised to conduct a peaceful, nonaligned foreign policy and to hold free elections. They have done neither.

I must remind our critics that our administration has pursued active diplomacy, holding 10 high-level meetings with the Sandinista regime. Always, the Communists have refused serious negotiations. I must further remind our critics that promising diplomatic proposals were on the table when Thursday's damaging House vote took place. President Duarte of El Salvador and his Central American colleagues had proposed that a dialog take place simultaneously between the freedom fighters and the Nicaraguan Communists, between the Salvadoran Government and its Communist opponents, and between the Nicaraguan Communists and the United States. We support this initiative, but the Nicaraguan Communists have refused to take part.

So, I would say to our critics: Join me in providing all the resources necessary -- and that means military aid to the freedom fighters -- to bring the Nicaraguan Communists to the table and to make them honor the international promise they have already made to the Organization of American States. The Communists, themselves, have shown again and again that diplomacy alone is not enough. As your President, I cannot leave my successor, I cannot leave our children, to face grave dangers and agonizing decisions that with a minimum of foresight and courage could've been averted. The freedom fighters have done much; they ask little. Let us act to help them together, Democrats and Republicans, and let us act now. Then we can get on with the business of lending a hand to our neighbors as they attack poverty and create economic opportunity for their people.

Until next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:06 p.m. from the Oval Office at the White House.