262. Editorial Note

On February 25, 1986, President Ronald Reagan sent a message to Congress transmitting a request for assistance for the Nicaraguan Democratic Resistance. In the message, the President requested Congressional approval “for the transfer of $100,000,000 from funds already appropriated for the Department of Defense so that those funds would also be available for assistance to the Nicaraguan democratic resistance. I am requesting this transfer authority, in lieu of a supplemental appropriation, because I regard this request as a matter of high priority for the national security of the United States.”

In concluding his message, the President underscored the need for Congressional support: “Congress must act decisively to prevent an outcome deeply injurious to the security of our Nation.

“If the enemies of democracy thousands of miles away understand the strategic importance of Nicaragua, understand that Nicaragua offers the possibility of destabilizing all Central America, of sending a tidal wave of refugees streaming toward our southern border, and of tying down the United States and weakening our ability to meet our commitments overseas, then we Americans must understand that Nicaragua is a foreign policy question of supreme importance which goes to the heart of our country’s freedom and future. With its vote, Congress will make its decision.

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“Those fighting for freedom in Nicaragua deserve and desperately need our help. The humanitarian assistance approved by the Congress in 1985 has proven insufficient. Cuban and Soviet military aid in the form of training and sophisticated hardware have taken their toll. If the Nicaraguan democratic resistance is to continue its struggle, and if peace, democracy, and security in this hemisphere are to be preserved, the United States must provide what is necessary to carry on the fight. If we fail to help friends in need now, then the price we will pay later will be much higher.

“Your approval of the request I am transmitting to you will provide the necessary help. I urge the prompt enactment of a joint resolution expressing that approval.” (Public Papers: Reagan, 1986, Book I, pages 254, 257)

On March 16, 1986, the President addressed the nation concerning the situation in Nicaragua, speaking at 8 p.m. from the Oval Office. His remarks were broadcast live on television and radio. Reagan began his address by highlighting the current threat posed by Nicaragua and its Sandinista regime, before describing the early efforts his administration had taken to secure bipartisan Congressional support for assistance “for the nations surrounding Nicaragua.” Noting the “debt of gratitude” the United States owed the Nicaraguan Contras, Reagan continued: “Since its inception in 1982 the democratic resistance has grown dramatically in strength. Today it numbers more than 20,000 volunteers, and more come every day. But now the freedom fighters’ supplies are running short, and they are virtually defenseless against the helicopter gunships Moscow has sent to Managua. Now comes the crucial test for the Congress of the United States. Will they provide the assistance the freedom fighters need to deal with Russian tanks and gunships, or will they abandon the democratic resistance to its Communist enemy?

“In answering that question, I hope Congress will reflect deeply upon what it is the resistance is fighting against in Nicaragua. Ask yourselves: What in the world are Soviets, East Germans, Bulgarians, North Koreans, Cubans, and terrorists from the PLO and the Red Brigades doing in our hemisphere, camped on our own doorstep? Is that for peace? Why have the Soviets invested $600 million to build Nicaragua into an armed force almost the size of Mexico’s, a country 15 times as large and 25 times as populous. Is that for peace? Why did Nicaragua’s dictator, Daniel Ortega, go to the Communist Party Congress in Havana and endorse Castro’s call for the worldwide triumph of communism? Was that for peace?

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“Some Members of Congress ask me, why not negotiate? That’s a good question, and let me answer it directly. We have sought, and still seek, a negotiated peace and a democratic future in a free Nicaragua. Ten times we have met and tried to reason with the Sandinistas; 10 times we were rebuffed. Last year we endorsed church-mediated negotiations between the regime and the resistance. The Soviets and the Sandinistas responded with a rapid arms buildup of mortars, tanks, artillery, and helicopter gunships.

“Clearly, the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact have grasped the great stakes involved, the strategic importance of Nicaragua. The Soviets have made their decision—to support the Communists. Fidel Castro has made his decision—to support the Communists. Arafat, Qadhafi and the Ayatollah Khomeini have made their decision—to support the Communists. Now we must make our decision. With Congress’ help, we can prevent an outcome deeply injurious to the national security of the United States. If we fail, there will be no evading responsibility—history will hold us accountable. This is not some narrow partisan issue; it is a national security issue, an issue on which we must act not as Republicans, not as Democrats, but as Americans.”

After referencing an earlier era of bipartisan consensus, the President said: “My fellow Americans, you know where I stand. The Soviets and the Sandinistas must not be permitted to crush freedom in Central America and threaten our own security on our own doorstep. Now the Congress must decide where it stands.”

He concluded: “So, tonight I ask you to do what you’ve done so often in the past. Get in touch with your Representative and Senators and urge them to vote yes; tell them to help the freedom fighters. Help us prevent a Communist takeover of Central America.

“I have only 3 years left to serve my country; 3 years to carry out the responsibilities you entrusted to me; 3 years to work for peace. Could there be any greater tragedy than for us to sit back and permit this cancer to spread, leaving my successor to face far more agonizing decisions in the years ahead? The freedom fighters seek a political solution. They are willing to lay down their arms and negotiate to restore the original goals of the revolution, a democracy in which the people of Nicaragua choose their own government. That is our goal also, but it can only come about if the democratic resistance is able to bring pressure to bear on those who have seized power.

“We still have time to do what must be done so history will say of us: We had the vision, the courage, and good sense to come together and act—Republicans and Democrats—when the price was not high and the risks were not great. We left America safe, we left America [Page 1145] secure, we left America free—still a beacon of hope to mankind, still a light unto the nations.

“Thank you, and God bless you.” (Public Papers: Reagan, 1986, Book II, pages 353, 355, 356–357) The full text of the President’s address is ibid., pages 352–357.