Remarks at a White House Briefing for Supporters of United States Assistance for the Nicaraguan Democratic Resistance

June 16, 1986

I appreciate your presence here today and all that you are doing to ensure that our country is secure and that this hemisphere is free in the years ahead. It doesn't seem so long ago when it was widely recognized that our freedom depended on helping those who were desperately fighting for their liberty.

America was the arsenal of democracy, for example, during a time when the outcome of the Second World War was seriously in doubt. One can only imagine what incredible totalitarian challenges we would've had to overcome had our precious supplies been withheld, and thus permitting England to fall to the Nazi onslaught. And no one my age can forget the massive commitment we made after the war to rebuild Europe and to thwart the expansion of communism. Part of that effort was the help we gave the democratic forces in Greece during their struggle against Communist insurgents, which was not dissimilar to what we're doing in El Salvador today. And all of this was not without opposition in the United States.

Nevertheless, America unflinchingly met its responsibility. A bipartisan consensus permitted us to leave politics at the water's edge and do what was necessary to keep the country safe. Some historians believe the trauma of the Vietnam war irreparably destroyed the spirit of cooperation. Well, I think otherwise; I think America is leaving the Vietnam syndrome behind. We face serious challenges -- it was great, wasn't it, on television last week, to see that [Vietnam veterans] parade in Chicago. They finally had come home.

Well, I expect the upcoming vote on aid to the Nicaraguan freedom fighters will signal the reemergence of bipartisanship in areas of national security and an end to the pessimism and disunity of the last decade. Over 2 months ago many Democrats voted for aid to the freedom fighters, and we're reaching out now to many more Democrats to make this truly a bipartisan issue and carry the day for the freedom fighters. We're looking to win this next vote, because it's becoming irrefutably clear that helping those fighting for freedom in Nicaragua is important to the safety of the United States and it is the right thing to do. And under those circumstances, there are no Republicans and no Democrats -- just Americans.

Some of those opposing our efforts have been hoping that the regime in Managua would reform and seek reconciliation with its opponents. Well, instead, the Nicaraguan Communists have taken every opportunity to smash internal opposition and annihilate the armed resistance. Their hints at reform are little more than delaying tactics, providing them time to silence, jail, or kill anyone who threatens their absolute power. The last House vote on this issue had barely been taken when Nicaraguan troops crossed over into Honduras to attack resistance forces. This was hardly the gesture of good will that many Members of the House had hoped for. That mini-invasion received much attention, but just as important was the major attack, an unproved assault, launched against Miskito Indian villages at the same time. I said unproved -- unprovoked assault launched against the Miskito Indian villages at the same time. This bloody operation triggered a panic that led to an exodus into Honduras of nearly 11,000 villagers. And others suffered a fate who didn't leave for those camps, such as being herded into camps and then left with no provision for supplies of food. And yet they could not go beyond the fences that hemmed them in.

Since the House vote, repression against independent labor unions, the press, the church, and opposition political parties has continued. The jails remain swollen with political prisoners, such as this one [pointing to a photograph] near Managua. And many of the prisoners are democratic union leaders. And today even the smallest vendor finds his or her tiny bit of private enterprise threatened. In the period since the last House vote, Managua has signed economic and cultural agreements with the Soviets. Foreign advisers remain ever present throughout the Nicaraguan military and secret police. The regime, for all its youth and designer glasses -- [laughter] -- is doing its best to turn Nicaragua into an Eastern European-style Communist dictatorship. And this is absolutely inconsistent with the values and traditions of the Americas, and we're not going to let it happen.

The Soviets, on the other hand, after a brief respite, are again stepping up the flow of weapons into Nicaragua. For the first time since 1984 a ship coming directly from the Soviet military port of Nikolayev delivered cargo to Nicaragua. And another significant step has been the arrival in Nicaragua of a reconnaissance aircraft with highly sophisticated equipment -- as shown in this photo here to the right -- which gives the Communist regime a significant advance in its military and intelligence capabilities. There is little room for doubt. The Communists show no intention of compromise, no intention of keeping their promises of democratic pluralism, or of refraining from aggression upon their neighbors. They've been given their chance and used it to thumb their nose at those who tried to give them the benefit of the doubt. Gestures of good will have been scoffed at. Opportunities for peace, diplomatic solutions, compromise, and negotiated settlements have been arrogantly passed by.

And all of this leads to one inescapable conclusion: If democracy is to have any chance at all, we must back up those who are fighting for freedom and back them with the weapons and resources they need. This is the only way that the Communists will take the demand for democracy and negotiations seriously. Much has been said of late about the consistency of a policy that advocates both aiding the freedom fighters and reaching out to find an agreement that could peacefully end the conflict. Well, there's nothing confusing or contradictory about supporting those who are using armed might to pressure an authoritarian regime into democratic reform. Those fighting the Communists are not, as they've oftentimes been portrayed, seeking power.

They want only the democracy that was promised. In 1979 the clique that now holds power in Managua made a solemn promise to the Organization of American States and to the people of Nicaragua as to the democratic and pluralistic nature of the government they planned to establish. And that promise was made to the OAS, and the result was the OAS asked Somoza then to step down in order to end further bloodshed. And on the basis of that promise, he did step down. What the freedom fighters seek and what we support is simply adherence to that promise of democracy. What we will not do is passively watch as a clique, armed to the teeth by a totalitarian power outside this hemisphere, as it beats its own population into submission and establishes a beachhead of tyranny, subversion, and terror on the continent of the Americas.

Thomas Jefferson once said, ``If a nation expects to be ignorant and free . . . it expects what never was and never will be.'' It's our job to make certain the American people get the facts about what is at stake in Central America. And I hope I can count on each one of you to get the word out, and I'm sure I can. Together, armed with the facts, we can revitalize that bipartisan spirit that puts the safety of our country and the love of liberty above all else.

I tell you from the bottom of my heart, I thank you for all that you're doing. And now is the time to put out the maximum effort, and we'll get the job done. There are thousands of young men and women in Nicaragua who are waiting to join the contras -- well, I'm going to stop calling them that. That word was given -- or appellation was applied to them by the Communists. They are freedom fighters. And these young people want to join the freedom fighters, only they don't have the arms and the equipment yet to take them on board. So, we know what our job is, and God bless all of you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:01 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building.