Clinton Defends NAFTA (5/7/97)
Clinton, Zedillo Talk Of Cooperation (5/6/97)
Clinton Meets With Central American Leaders
Immigration, trade top the summit's agenda
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AllPolitics, May 8) -- Immigration and trade once again topped President Bill Clinton's agenda as he met Thursday with seven Central American leaders on the first of two days of meetings hosted by Costa Rica.
Opening a news conference after Thursdsay's round of talks, Costa Rica's President Jose Figueres categorized the dialogue as "sincere," "realistic," "human" and "very friendly."
Clinton, noting peace and democracy are dominating the region for the first time in a generation, said the time was right for strengthening hemispheric alliances.
"A decade ago, we focused on civil wars," Clinton said. "Now together, we are fighting against poverty and fighting for prosperity, stronger democracy, and the sustainable development of our precious resources. It is this new reality, this new agenda that we share."
Of top concern for the Central American leaders is a question being debated in many U.S. cities: how to handle some 400,000 refugees from El Salvador, Nicaragua and other Central American nations who fled to the United States during the 1980s.
The new U.S. immigration law allows Clinton to permit only 4,000 refugees to remain. Unless Congress passes a new law by the end of September, the others will have to be deported to their homelands, tearing apart families in the process.
Clinton insisted that "there will be no mass deportations and no targeting of Central Americans under this law. I am working with Congress to implement the new law so that it does not produce these unintended results," he pledged.
El Salvador President Armando Calderon Sol said he was reassured by what he heard. "There is time from now to September for a joint initiative with the Congress and to [create] more awareness within the Congress concerning this issue which is so important for Central America. Today is a very important day, a day of great hope for all Central Americans," he said.
But behind the scenes, many Central American leaders have complained that the United States has lost interest in their part of the world now that the superpower rivalry of the Cold War has ended.
Clinton conceded the point partially. "I think there is some validity to that criticism," he said. "That is, I think there is some sectors of our society that may have been more interested in Central America when it was a battleground in the Cold War ... But I don't think it's a fair characterization of America as a whole or of the attitude of this administration."
He did seek to reassure his Central American counterparts on some practical matters, such as strengthening trade between those nations and the U.S.
A statement signed by the leaders reaffirms their commitment to free trade in the region by the year 2005. "To explore ways to move toward our common goal of a free trade area of the Americas by 2005, we created a ministerial-level trade and investment council," Clinton said.
And, Clinton noted that reductions in tariffs for goods coming into the U.S. are also paid for in the new balanced budget proposal.
Figueres called that an important step. "It is through the development of dynamic economies and more equitable social structures that we will be able to fully grasp the benefits of democratic governments," he said.
The San Jose communique also proposes the establishment of a new regional law enforcement academy to train officers to deal with illegal drugs, money laundering and other crimes.
Concluding the summit, attendees signed an "open skies" agreement, designed to make air travel throughout the region easier and cheaper. The move will "allow our air carriers greater freedom to increase passenger and cargo services, to lower prices for travelers and shippers, and literally, to bring the Americas closer together," Clinton said.
Leaders from Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua participated in the meeting.
CNN's Wolf Blitzer contributed to this report.
Copyright © 1997 AllPolitics All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this information is provided to you.