March 8, 1986
My fellow Americans:
I want to speak to you today about our request to help the Nicaraguan freedom fighters, which Congress should be voting on within the next 2 weeks. Let me say at the outset, this will be a vote of supreme importance. History will soon record whether the United States Congress, faced with a powerful Soviet-bloc challenge to capture Nicaragua and spread communism throughout Central America, stood by and watched or had the courage to stand up for freedom and America's security.
The facts are clear, and the facts are compelling. The days of pretending Nicaragua is some aggrieved, misunderstood country, an innocent lamb of peace wishing only to live in harmony with its people and neighbors, have long passed. Nicaragua is a country held captive by a cruel clique of deeply committed Communists at war with God and man from their very first days. Between 1979 and 1981, when a trusting America was still providing more economic aid to Nicaragua than was any other nation, the Nicaraguan regime was already saying Marxist-Leninism is the scientific doctrine that guides our revolution; and this revolution goes beyond our borders. These men are deadly serious. Of all the nations in Central America, only Nicaragua suspends all civil rights; only Nicaragua suppresses political parties and refuses any dialog with its opponents; only Nicaragua murders political dissenters and indoctrinates children with class hatred; only Nicaragua persecutes the Catholic Church, humiliates its Cardinal and the Pope, and tortures believers of other religions, from Mormons to Evangelicals to Miskito Indians.
Above all, only Nicaragua has become a wedge of aggression that intimidates and undermines its neighbors. Nicaragua's policy to foment violence was laid out at a secret meeting back in 1979 involving all military, intelligence, and security organizations, including the defense and secret police ministries headed by key Communists Humberto Ortega and Tomas Borge. Now this dictatorship becomes more dangerous as a flood of weapons and manpower pour in from the Soviet bloc and their coldblooded allies, the PLO and Libya. One thing alone unites these enemies of democracy: hatred for America and America's values. These men did not come to Central America to spread good will; these men came to do us harm, and they mean to succeed. As Qadhafi gloated: Supporting Nicaragua means a great thing; it means fighting America near its own borders.
How can Congress ignore this storm gathering so close to our homeland? From amassing a military force larger than all other countries in the region to building the longest military airstrip in Central America -- long enough to handle Soviet Backfire bombers -- to being chief conduit of weapons to El Salvador's guerrillas, the radicals of Honduras, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and the terrorists who recently attacked the Palace of Justice in Colombia, Nicaragua today rivals Cuba as principal Communist warehouse and exporter of violence in our Western Hemisphere.
Soviet Chairman Andrey Gromyko was once quoted as saying: ``America's greatest weakness is its inability to understand the Soviet Union's final goals.'' He was right. Today some still question our honorable commitment to peace. Well, forgive me, but those questions should be directed to the Communists, not to the United States Government, to Nicaragua's dictator, who's been back in Havana again after the Cuban Third Party Congress vowed to defeat the United States and make communism victorious worldwide. It is the Nicaraguan Communists who dismissed all our efforts to promote internal dialog and who suspended talks with their neighbors, but we're still trying.
Next week I'm sending Ambassador Habib to meet with President Duarte of El Salvador, who has offered to resume talks with the guerrillas in El Salvador if the Nicaraguan Communists begin simultaneous talks with the prodemocracy forces in that country. Yet if the freedom fighters get only Band-Aids from the United States, while Nicaraguans get helicopter gunships from the Soviets -- the same death machines they're using to massacre the Afghan people -- the Communists will feel no need to negotiate. Without power, diplomacy will be without leverage.
My fellow Americans, the question is not whether we want peace in Central America. The question is: Will we meet a growing danger from the Soviets, East Germans, Bulgarians, North Koreans, Cubans, and PLO camped on our doorstep -- a danger which already is disrupting peace in Central America and will soon imperil our own security? That is the question which must be answered within the next 2 weeks. Our policy can keep Central America free without committing American troops.
Until next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.
Note: The President spoke at 12:06 p.m. from Camp David, MD. Ambassador Philip C. Habib was the Special Envoy for Central America.