July 21, 1982

I assure you I'm not going to keep you from your dinner long or your festivities long, but I am delighted to be with you this evening and to congratulate all the Caribbean Basin Coalition members. You've come up with a wonderful way for all of us to express our support for strengthening Caribbean Basin economies.

I particularly want to thank the cochairmen, Frank Borman, who was just here, and Lee Kling, David Rockefeller, and Sam Segnar, the host committee, and all the supporters from business and voluntary organizations. And a special thanks to the delegates from the Caribbean and Central America.

Last February, in this same great Hall of the Americas, I spoke of my conviction that this hemisphere was a special place with a special destiny. The Caribbean Basin Initiative was launched to help our neighbors by the sea, some two dozen countries of the Caribbean Basin, to reach their full potential. We're talking about assistance to support a modern economy, but also, trade, investment, and commercial financing to develop the magic of the marketplace, the only hope for eventual escape from dependence to self-sustained growth.

Now, this is the United States part of a larger program that was worked out in cooperation with supporting countries in the region, such as Mexico, Canada, Venezuela, and Colombia, and by the countries represented by so many of you from the nations of the Caribbean. This is not a made-in-America program; it's a made-in-Americas program, as I told some of you this morning.

Our countries are neighbors, linked geographically, politically, economically, culturally, and strategically. We have our differences, as neighbors always do, but we can deal directly with and manage these differences because we're neighbors.

Our friends in the Caribbean now face grave economic problems and the political instability and sometimes subversion which inevitably feed on those problems. There is no quick solution. Recovery in the United States and world economies will help, but we must also think about and build for the longer term. That's why the countries of this region have pulled together to initiate this program.

With the Caribbean Basin Initiative we can open a window onto a different time, a different future -- a future in which the creative energies of free individuals lead to prosperity and the freedom to choose their own destiny.

The CBI legislation is now before the Congress. I consider passage of that program a top priority. We need a farsighted act by our people now, a time of great economic trial for us as well, so we can prevent even greater expenditures of energy, time, and treasure in the future.

Our neighbors deserve our cooperation. We share a commitment to freedom and independence. The idea of democracy is strong there. Over two-thirds of the countries in the area are democracies. In Central America democracy has made great strides and inspired enthusiasm, as was clear in the massive vote in El Salvador.

Since I submitted the CBI program to the Congress in April, I've met with a number of leaders from the region -- most recently, President Suazo of Honduras, President-elect Jorge Blanco of the Dominican Republic -- and I know that the economic crisis in the area has worsened. We must act now, and I want you to know that I'm personally leading the effort to assure passage of this vitally needed legislation before the summer recess.

I welcome all the support that all of you can give us, and I, again, say thank you very much for being here and for your interest. God bless you, and have a wonderful evening.

Note: The President spoke at 7:40 p.m. at the Organization of American States Building.

Earlier in the day, the President met at the White House with chief executive officers of several corporations and associations which support the Caribbean Basin Initiative. He also met with representatives of 24 governments involved in the initiative.