68. Editorial Note

On October 21, 1981, at 8:31 a.m., President Ronald Reagan addressed reporters assembled at the South Portico of the White House before his departure for Cancun to attend the International Meeting on Cooperation and Development, also known as the Cancun Summit. In his remarks, the President outlined the U.S. objectives for the meeting: “Our message at Cancun will be clear. The road to prosperity and human fulfillment is lightened by economic freedom and individual incentive. As always, the United States will be a friend and an active partner in the search for a better life.

“We take with us a solid record of support for development and a positive program for the 1980s. Free people build free markets that ignite dynamic development for everyone. We will renew our commitment to strengthen and improve international trading, investment, and financial relations, and we will work for more effective cooperation to help developing countries achieve greater self-sustaining growth.

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“Cancun is a unique undertaking in world affairs. Never have so many nations gathered from so many parts of the globe for a summit conference on economic growth. With cooperation and good will, this summit can be more than just another shattered dream. It can be the beginning of new hope and a better life for all.” (Public Papers: Reagan, 1981, pages 978–979)

The Cancun Summit took place October 22–23. Participants in addition to Reagan included President Sergej Kraigher of Yugoslavia, President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki of Japan, Executive President Forbes Burnham of Guyana, President Francois Mitterrand of France, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India, President Alhaji Shehu Shagari of Nigeria, Prime Minister Thorbjorn Falldin of Sweden, President Luis Herrera Campins of Venezuela, Acting President Abdus Sattar of Bangladesh, Foreign Minister Simeon Ake of Cote d’Ivoire, Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher of the Federal Republic of Germany, Deputy Prime Minister Crown Prince Fahd of Saudi Arabia, Foreign Minister Willibald Pahr of Austria, Foreign Minister Ramiro Saraiva Guerreiro of Brazil, Premier Zhao Ziyang of China, President Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, United Nations Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau of Canada, and President Jose Lopez Portillo y Pacheco of Mexico. Documentation on the summit meeting is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, volume XXXVIII, International Economic Development; International Debt; Foreign Assistance.

Prior to the plenary session, the President was scheduled to conduct bilateral meetings with Lopez Portillo, Zhao, Gandhi, Shagari, Herrera Campins, and Kraigher. In an undated memorandum to the President, his Assistant for National Security Affairs Richard Allen asserted that these meetings “will probably be more important to the outcome of this meeting than your bilaterals were to the outcome of the Ottawa Summit.” Allen explained that the meetings were scheduled “to take place before the plenary sessions begin in order to give you an early opportunity to influence these leaders. Their support is essential to a successful outcome at the Summit.” After offering guidance specific to each of the six meetings, Allen added: “The other bilaterals are also important to the outcome of the meeting, but more by way of limiting damage. The meetings on Friday with Algeria, Tanzania and Guyana may create some anticipation that will favorably influence the positions these countries take in the plenary sessions. Bangladesh is likely to play a moderate role, and the bilateral meeting will reinforce this. The Philippines and Saudi Arabia are key U.S. partners in the quest for peace. While they may not be unusually helpful to us in the plenary meetings, they are also unlikely to take the lead against our interests. We [Page 250] have not scheduled separate bilaterals with industrial countries both to emphasize the developing country focus of the meeting and to avoid any appearance of needing a go-between with developing countries or of ganging up on the developing countries.” (Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Trip File, President Reagan’s Participation in the International Meeting on Cooperation and Development Cancun, Mexico 10/21/1981–10/23/1981 Bilateral Meetings—Mr. Allen (Binder) (1); NLR–755–2–34–8–6)

The first plenary session of the summit took place on October 22. During the plenary the President read a statement, beginning his remarks by acknowledging both the differences and the commonalities of the participants in relation to economic policy. Reagan then stressed: “We recognize that each nation’s approach to development should reflect its own cultural, political, and economic heritage. That is the way it should be. The great thing about our international system is that it respects diversity and promotes creativity. Certain economic factors, of course, apply across cultural and political lines. We are mutually interdependent, but, above all, we are individually responsible.

“We must respect both diversity and economic realities when discussing grand ideas. As I said last week in Philadelphia, we do not seek an ideological debate; we seek to build upon what we already know will work.

“History demonstrates time and again, in place after place, economic growth and human progress make their greatest strides in countries that encourage economic freedom.

“Government has an important role in helping to develop a country’s economic foundation. But the critical test is whether government is genuinely working to liberate individuals by creating incentives to work, save, invest, and succeed.

“Individual farmers, laborers, owners, traders, and managers—they are the heart and soul of development. Trust them. Because whenever they are allowed to create and build, wherever they are given a personal stake in deciding economic policies and benefiting from their success, then societies become more dynamic, prosperous, progressive, and free.

“With sound understanding of our domestic freedom and responsibilities, we can construct effective international cooperation. Without it, no amount of international good will and action can produce prosperity.”

After discussing the U.S. efforts toward development efforts in the Third World and support for participation in the process of Global Negotiations, the President continued: “But our main purpose in coming to Cancun is to focus on specific questions of substance, not procedural [Page 251] matters. In this spirit, we bring a positive program of action for development, concentrated around these principles:

“—stimulating international trade by opening up markets, both within individual countries and among countries;

“—tailoring particular development strategies to the specific needs and potential of individual countries and regions;

“—guiding our assistance toward the development of self-sustaining productive activities, particularly in food and energy;

“—improving the climate for private capital flows, particularly private investment; and

“—creating a political atmosphere in which practical solutions can move forward, rather than founder on a reef of misguided policies that restrain and interfere with the international marketplace or foster inflation.

“In our conversations, we will be elaborating on the specifics of this program. The program deals not in flashy new gimmicks, but in substantive fundamentals with a track record of success. It rests on a coherent view of what’s essential to development—namely political freedom and economic opportunity.

“Yes, we believe in freedom. We know it works. It’s just as exciting, successful, and revolutionary today as it was 200 years ago.

“I want to thank our hosts for arranging this historic opportunity. Let us join together and proceed together. Economic development is an exercise in mutual cooperation for the common good. We can and must grasp this opportunity for our people and together take a step for mankind.” (Public Papers: Reagan, 1981, pages 980–982)

In his personal diary entry for October 22, the President wrote: Met with Pres.’s (1 on 1) of Austria & Yrega Slooci [Sergej Kraicher]. Then 1st session devoted to speeches by each of 22 delegates. I know everyone was waiting for mine—possibly with chip on shoulder. We fooled them—it was well received.” (Brinkley, ed., The Reagan Diaries, volume I, January 1981–October 1985, page 77; brackets are in the original)

On October 23, during a question and answer session with reporters held in his suite at the Cancun Sheraton Hotel, the President was asked if any of the other delegates had “said anything to cause you to change your thinking about foreign aid or how you could help the poor people of the world?” Reagan responded, “No, but you have to remember that there’s no one at that table that has done more in the line of foreign aid than has the United States. And we’re concerned, have been for some time, that our foreign aid would be as effective as it can be. And many times for a program that gigantic, and over the years, you know that it can fall into ruts. And the aid is being delivered, but you want to make sure that it’s getting to the people that it’s intended to help.

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“So, we had a very good discussion yesterday on food and agriculture for the countries that have that problem. And I think we’ve made a contribution to them, in proposals as to how we could go in—you might say that that’s a task force route—and find out exactly how their own agricultural output could be improved.” (Public Papers: Reagan, 1981, page 983)

On that same day, Lopez Portillo and Trudeau, issued on their own behalf, a summary of the sessions. The text of the summary is printed in Department of State Bulletin, December 1981, pages 5–9.

In remarks made on October 24 at Andrews Air Force Base upon his return to Washington, Reagan referred to the motivations guiding the United States in contributing toward economic development, which he had previously outlined in his Philadelphia remarks (see Document 66): “At Cancun, we stressed many of those same important themes and the commitment of the United States to work with those countries in their development efforts. There was broad agreement on steps which had to be taken by the developing countries themselves, and by developed and developing countries together, to stimulate the process of growth. There was broad acceptance of many of the approaches proposed in Philadelphia and a strong desire to work with the United States in these areas.

“All participants recognized the fact that economic prosperity in any country or group of countries depends both on individual countries own efforts and on close international economic cooperation. We didn’t waste time on unrealistic rhetoric or unattainable objectives. We dealt with pragmatic solutions to the problems of growth—efforts to improve food security and agricultural development.

“There was agreement with our proposal that task forces should be sent to developing countries to assist them in finding new agricultural techniques and transmitting to farmers techniques now in existence. I have directed the Agency for International Development to coordinate these U.S. efforts and to report to us on the progress made.

“We also discussed ways to increase trade and industrialization, and there was strong support for working together at the GATT Ministerial. In addition, ways were discussed in which the developing nations can increase their energy production, and monetary and financial issues were reviewed.

“I return home reminded again of the importance of American leadership in the world. At Cancun, we made a good beginning toward more constructive and mutually beneficial relations among developed and developing nations and toward a more prosperous world. We have an enormous opportunity now to advance mutually beneficial economic relations with our developing country partners.

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“I look forward to continuing our efforts in the constructive spirit that characterized the Cancun discussions. By sustaining that spirit, the American people, the people of the developing nations, and the entire world will be better.” (Public Papers: Reagan, 1981, pages 986–987)