Remarks at the Annual Convention of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Tampa, Florida
August 12, 1983
The President. Thank you very much, and thank you, Hector. I appreciate the chance to be with you all here today.
Over the last 2 1/2 years, your president, Hector Barreto, and others in the leadership of the Hispanic Chamber have been a tremendous source of advice and inspiration to me. So let me begin by saying to you, Hector, and to all of you for what you stand and for what you've done, "Muchas gracias.'' I can't do too much more in your language -- [laughter] -- than that.
But without you in the business community, where would we be? It's your decisions, investments, and risk-taking that make our country a miracle of efficiency and the envy of the world.
There's a story, you know, about a fellow whose friend was so successful in business that he was opening up a new branch office. And he decided to send a floral arrangement, some nice flowers there for the grand opening. When he got there, he was shocked to find that the wreath that was delivered bore the inscription, ``Rest in peace.'' [Laughter] He was angry, and on the way home he stopped in at the flower shop to complain. And he was going at it, and the florist said, ``Wait a minute. Just look at it this way: Somewhere in the land today a man was buried under a wreath that said, `Good luck in your new location.''' [Laughter]
But you business men and women of Hispanic descent, you stand for much more than efficiency. I feel very much at home with you. There are people in this blessed land who feel that expressions of love for country and family are old-fashioned. They squirm and get uneasy when we talk about pride in neighborhood and work or speak of religious values. There are people like that. But you know something? You won't find them in the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
To every cynic who says the American dream is dead, I say, ``Come to the Hispanic business community; come see how entrepreneurs of Hispanic descent are not just building new corporations, they're building America's future for all of us.''
Inspirational examples of individual accomplishment abound. Your own president and my friend, Hector Barreto, has an inspiring story that I wish every schoolchild in America could hear. Twenty-five years ago, as a struggling immigrant, he dug potatoes for 80 cents an hour. Today, he owns a piece of the dream. In fact, he owns several businesses, including a successful tile distribution company.
And then there is Lourdes Miranda, born in Puerto Rico, into a family in which neither parent had a formal education. Yet, with persistence and uncompromising desire for excellence, she went to college and then on to doctoral studies at the University of Madrid. She is now president of a highly successful media consulting firm in Bethesda, Maryland.
There's another story of hard work and triumph about a junior high school dropout named Manuel Caldera, a veteran, who later earned his G.E.D. degree. He went on to be an electronic technician and an engineer. And with money he saved and with help from a minority loan program during the Nixon administration, he started AMEX Systems, a company specializing in the development and manufacture of electronic equipment. And today, his company does more than support his family; his company supports 700 employees and earns some $62 million a year in sales.
These few that I've mentioned and others of you right in this room offer us a vision of progress and hope. You prove that with freedom of enterprise comes values that make America more than a rich country -- they make us a good country.
I don't have to tell you that when Hector Barreto is not running his own business, he's overseeing a host of community service projects. If I could find out where he gets his energy, I'd package it and bring it back to Washington. [Laughter]
Nor has Lourdes Miranda's success dampened her concern for others. Her company provides specialized training for young Hispanic women. Last year she helped train 40 women to qualify for job opportunities in today's market.
In a fine example of a private sector initiative, Manuel Caldera's company contributes $500 a month to an orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico. And each year, he personally gives to Whittier College for scholarships that enable students of Hispanic descent to study science and engineering.
These are not unusual stories. They are, instead examples of a byproduct of freedom that is always present but often unnoticed -- respect and concern for others. Business men and women realize that success depends on fulfilling the needs of others and doing it courteously and efficiently. And by doing for others, you are also achieving for yourself.
This system of ours has produced the most material abundance, the greatest freedom, and the most compassionate country in the history of mankind. Our people came here from every corner of the world, from every ethnic background, and every race and religion seeking freedom and opportunity. Our history isn't perfect, but we can be proud of our country. And Americans of Hispanic descent can be particularly proud of the contributions they have made and are making to the well-being of this nation.
Today it's my special honor to present your award to the Hispanic business man and woman of the year. So, if Hector will join me, I'd like to ask -- I would like to ask Manuel Caldera, but I can't; his plane was delayed and so, instead, Sergio Banuelos is going to accept in his behalf -- and ask Lourdes to stand up here with us and receive these awards.
I have been mispronouncing it, haven't I? Lourdes.
Ms. Miranda. Yes, you have, Mr. President. [Laughter]
The President. It's Lourdes. Thank you, Hector. I told you I wasn't too good in your language. [Laughter]
Ms. Miranda. You're doing very well. Thank you.
The President. Well, congratulations.
Ms. Miranda. Thank you very much.
The President. You know, maybe I've told this to some of you before, but this whole matter of language difficulties -- some years ago when I was Governor, I was speaking in Mexico City. And I sat down to rather unenthusiastic and not very impressive applause, and I was a little embarrassed. Then a gentleman -- it was worse when a gentleman followed me and started speaking in Spanish -- which I didn't understand -- but he was being applauded about every paragraph. So to hide my embarrassment, I started clapping before everyone else and longer than anyone else until our Ambassador leaned over to me and said, ``I wouldn't do that if I were you. He's interpreting your speech.'' [Laughter]
But I believe that all of us share a sacred responsibility to maintain the opportunity and the freedom that we've enjoyed and to pass it on to future generations. Our task hasn't been easy. We're just now emerging from an economic crisis so severe that it would have robbed our children of the America that we all know and love.
Three years ago the ominous signs were everywhere. The world seemed to be counting us out, saying America's best days were past. Even our leaders were throwing up their hands, suggesting we were in a malaise, was the word they used, and our problems were unsolvable.
Well, it's taken patience and hard work. Entrenched policies were squeezing the life out of our economy, and basic change was essential. But I'm pleased to report to you today, America has made a new beginning. This great nation is moving forward again, and we're not turning back.
When we got to Washington 2\1/2\ years ago inflation was running at double-digit levels and had been doing so for 2 straight years -- the worst performance in 60 years. Well, we've knocked that inflation from double digits down to 2.6 percent for the last 12 months, the lowest it has been for 12 months in 16 years. And for all their talk about compassion, those who call themselves liberal gave us a terrible inflation that would have devastated millions had we permitted it to continue. And today, a family of four earning $25,000 has $600 more in purchasing power than in 1980.
But let me just interject here that there is another figure that has just come out today that I think you should hear. One of the things that I tried to stress in those things we were doing, laying the groundwork for the economic recovery, was that this time we had to do the job right -- a solid, sustained, noninflationary recovery that would last. Well, today, this other piece of news is we are on the right track. The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced the Producer Price Index -- Consumer Price Index for 12 months: 2.6 -- the Producer Price Index of finished goods has risen only 1.4 percent over the last 12 months, and that's the lowest for a 12-month period in 16 years.
We are launched into a solid recovery. Just before I took office, the prime rate hit 21\1/2\ percent, and there were loud cries for a quick fix. Well, we didn't heed the hysteria. We followed common sense. Today the prime interest rate stands at 11 percent. There will be slight fluctuations like we experienced this week, but if the Congress acts responsibly with regard to spending, interest rates will come down more.
When we took office, America was suffering from years of wasteful, uncontrolled spending and taxing. Federal spending was growing at a rate of 17 percent. We've cut that increase by 40 percent.
Paying for all that spending had doubled the Federal tax in just 5 years, between 1976 and 1981. Average working people were being taxed at rates that were once reserved for the wealthy, only a short time before. In these last few years, we have cut personal income tax rates by 25 percent, and soon they will be indexed so that the Federal Government will never again profit from inflation at your expense.
And I don't have to tell you business people about the burden of excessive Federal regulation. Under the direction of Vice President Bush, we have cut 300 million man-hours off the processing of needless redtape and paperwork that was demanded by government.
The cumulative effect of our efforts is just now being felt, and the signs are good. Consumer spending is up. Productivity is up. Industrial production, retail sales, auto sales, housing and construction are all up since the beginning of the year. Last quarter, the economy grew by 8.7 percent, a much bigger jump than any of us had expected or predicted.
One of the last indicators to turn around is unemployment. I feel deeply about the suffering of the unemployed, and don't let anyone tell you differently. I went through looking for a job in the Great Depression of the thirties. Do you think that going back to the policies that dragged our economy down and set fire to inflation will really help the unemployed? Or would you agree that the best way to help all Americans is to continue the reforms that have brought down inflation, interest rates, taxes, and that last month gave us the biggest monthly drop in unemployment in almost 24 years?
In these 2\1/2\ years, we have fundamentally changed the direction of government in America. We were headed toward ever-increasing government control, toward a society where power and decisions would be controlled not by you the people, but by a faceless central authority. Permit me to ask you one more question. Is that the America you want to live in and leave to your children? Or do we want to live in a society where all people have the right to make decisions for themselves?
Here again, the Hispanic Chamber is playing a significant role. You have provided a valuable resource to your community, bridging the gap between major corporations and government, making certain that your enterprises and business people have the technical assistance and the contracts they need to compete. In only 5 years, the number of Hispanic-owned firms has jumped 65 percent to some 363,000 businesses, generating about $18 billion in sales per year.
My administration remains firm in its commitment to expanding minority-owned business. And through the strong efforts of the Small Business Administration, which has as its Deputy Administrator, Eddie Herrera, and through our commitment to minority procurement, we've put our money where our mouth is.
Let me answer some of the criticisms that are being hoisted and thrown around, and let's make one thing plain. Our goal isn't welfare or handouts, it's jobs and opportunity. [Applause]
Thank you very much. You have just sent a message to some people that need to hear it in Washington, D.C.
If we can prevent our country from being drawn back to the policies of tax, spend, and inflate -- policies that knocked the wind out of our economy in the first place -- we'll be on our way to a new era of growth and expansion that will better the life of every American. With the energy and enthusiasm I sense in this room, I predict Americans of Hispanic descent will be leading the way. Let us join together today to accept a great challenge. And the challenge is to double the number of businesses owned by Americans of Hispanic descent and to do it in the next 4 years.
What we are struggling to build, however, is much more than a society of wealth. You need only to look around the world to see the relationship between economic freedom and political and social freedom. Nations with government-controlled economies usually have government-controlled speech, religion, and press, as well. Some of you here know that from personal experience.
And of course, some people believe that governments should dominate human action and that individuals must live like sheep. Such people don't believe in the political and social freedoms that we hold dear. They are contemptuous of the worship of God. That philosophy is alien to this hemisphere and has brought deprivation and tyranny wherever it's gained a foothold.
No better example exists than Cuba. Under Castro's rule, Cuba has become the economic basket case of the hemisphere. The Cuban Government sells its young men as Soviet cannon fodder in exchange for a massive subsidy without which it couldn't survive. The Cuban people have been betrayed. They have neither freedom nor material goods. The only things abundant there today are slogans, weapons, repression, and shortages. Food and the necessities of life are severely rationed.
You know, I have to interrupt and tell you something, 'cause I just heard a little joke that I think some people in Cuba are telling. [Laughter] Castro was making a speech to a large audience, and he said, ``They say that I am -- accuse me of intervening in Angola.'' And a man going through the audience said, ``Peanuts, popcorn!'' He said, ``They say that I'm intervening in Mozambique,'' and the same voice said, ``Peanuts and popcorn!'' And he said, ``They say I'm intervening in Nicaragua.'' ``Peanuts and popcorn!'' And by this time he's boiling mad, and he said, ``Bring that man who's shouting `peanuts and popcorn' to me, and I'm going to kick him all the way to Miami.'' [Laughter] And everybody in the audience started shouting, ``Peanuts and popcorn!'' [Laughter and applause]
Cuba's repression and economic failure, seriously, are consistent with what has happened in every Communist country. Jamaica flirted with radical socialism, and it turned a tranquil, peace-loving country with great economic potential into a bitterly divided, impoverished society. It's a tribute to the freedom-loving Jamaicans that they withstood the totalitarian temptation and are now rebuilding their country's prosperity with the tools of freedom and democracy.
Today, our nation is confronted with a challenge of supreme importance. A faraway totalitarian power has set its sights on our friends and neighbors in Central America and the Caribbean. If we don't meet our responsibilities there, we'll pay dearly for it.
The security aspect of this challenge must be addressed. Those who suggest otherwise are courting disaster. So, we're helping our friends to defend themselves, and we will continue to help them, showing them we'll stand by them in their hour of need.
But let's get one thing straight. Those who claim our support is only of a military nature are building a huge strawman. Security assistance is not the essence of our approach to Central America and the Caribbean. I don't know how many times it must be repeated before the message gets through: Three out of every four dollars we send to the region are in the form of economic aid. From the early days of this administration, we've been promoting democracy, dialog, and economic progress in Central America and the Caribbean.
When I got to Washington, one of the first heads of state to visit the White House was Jamaica's Prime Minister Seaga. He was anxious to build his economy and, together, we worked out a program to encourage private sector investment. By turning his country away from socialism, Prime Minister Seaga has ended 7 years of economic decline that plagued his people. One hundred sixty-two new investments have been made to date, providing the potential for thousands of new jobs.
Our Caribbean Basin Initiative is designed to bring the power of private enterprise -- America's most potent weapon -- to help build Central America and the Caribbean. I was finally able to sign this important legislation just 1 week ago, after too long a wait.
As far as I'm concerned, too much politics has been played with what should be our role in Central America. When it comes to keeping our country safe, there must be no Republicans, no Democrats, just Americans. [Applause]
Our AID [Agency for International Development] program continues to do some great work in developing the potential of the region's private sector. In Honduras, a team of private sector experts sent by AID helped that country reorganize its forest management, permitting it to protect its resources while reaping the benefits of valuable timberland. I had the honor of personally handing the report of the task force to President Suazo of Honduras.
In the Dominican Republic and Haiti, where swine fever disease threatened their entire pork production, AID helped them eradicate the dreaded disease.
In Jamaica, AID helped finance an aquaculture project that when fully implemented will provide a new cash crop from fish ponds, just as it's providing loans, capital, to numerous small business enterprises in other developing Latin American countries.
In Guatemala, AID teams with scientific know-how showed farmers how to use less fertilizer and still double their crops.
Similar efforts are being made in El Salvador, where AID-financed technical assistance is helping tens of thousands of new landowners under the agrarian reform program to learn how to manage their land and increase their income.
And there in El Salvador, as is true in other countries in the region, the AFL - CIO's American Institute for Free Labor is playing an admirable role, both in assisting the land reform process and in providing guidance in the creation of a free union movement.
I'm also aware of what the Hispanic Chamber is doing to strengthen our ties with your business counterparts to the South. I applaud you for your international trade conference, held in Guadalajara, and the initiative that you are demonstrating in the Western Hemispheric Congress of Latin Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
But much more of this information should be given to the American public. We're in the midst of a long overdue awakening. The time has come when all us in the Americas, in the Western Hemisphere, can and must recognize our common bonds. Most of us are descended from pioneers, people with the courage to leave the familiar and start again in a new world. We came here in search of a dream, looking for freedom and a better life. We worship the same God. From the tip of Tierra del Fuego to the north slopes of Alaska, we are all Americans, a new breed of people.
And what a mighty force we can be for good if we work together and use our combined potential. There have been mistakes made in the past, but we can overcome those mistakes because what binds us together is far stronger than what divides us.
I have a vision of a united hemisphere, united not by the arbitrary bonds of state but by the voluntary bonds of free ideals. Today you, our citizens of Hispanic descent, can be a bridge to our neighbors in the south. We have much to do together as Americans and as citizens of the hemisphere. And with God's help, there is nothing that we cannot accomplish.
Thank you for having me with you, and vaya con Dios [God be with you.]
Note: The President spoke at 2:31 p.m. in the Regency Ballroom at the Tampa Hyatt Regency Hotel. The convention and International Business Exchange was attended by approximately 5,000 representatives from government, the corporate sector, and the Hispanic business community in the United States, Mexico, and other Latin American countries.
Following his remarks, the President went to the Marriott Hotel in El Paso, Tex., where he remained overnight.