SUMMIT OF THE AMERICAS
MAY 8, 1997
In an effort to demonstrate continued interest and support for the region, President Clinton today met with the leaders of seven Central American countries. The leaders discussed trade issues and the recently passed immigration bill. Following a report on the history of U.S.-Central American relations, Charles Krause leads a discussion on the summit.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Now, for three perspectives; Sen. Christopher Dodd, Democrat from Connecticut, is the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs. Bernard Aronson was the assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs from 1989 to 1994. And Isaac Cohen is a native Guatemalan and director of the Washington office of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. Gentlemen, welcome. Mr. Cohen, there were high expectations going into today's meeting on the part of the Central Americans. Was the declaration specific enough to deal with the region's real problems?
A RealAudio version of this interview is available.
May 8, 1997:
Charles Krause reports on the history of U.S.-Central American relations.
May 5, 1997:
A Newsmaker interview with Pres. Ernesto Zedillo on changes in Mexico's government.
May 2, 1997:
A Newsmaker interview with Mack McLarty, America's special envoy to the Americas.
April 29, 1997:
An Online NewsHour Forum with a journalist in Mexico City.
March 4, 1997:
Kwame Holman reports on Republican claims that election year politics played a role in the rules of citizenship.
February 27, 1997:
Charles Krause interviews Sen. Diane Feinstein about her opposition to re-certifying Mexico.
October 23, 1996:
Charles Krause reports on what Mexican-Americans call the new anti-immigrant climate, "La Amenza--the threat."
October 22, 1996:
The NewsHour conducted an Issue & Debate looking at Senator Dole's and President Clinton's stands on immigration.
October 1, 1996:
Two experts discuss the ramifications of a new Immigration law.
The complete NewsHour coverage of Latin America.
ISAAC COHEN, United Nations Official: Well, I think there was a lot of expectation because I believe that this signals the fact that the Cold War has ended and that the United States is not interested in the region anymore for security reasons because there's no security threat at all. The fact that economic issues were on the top of the agenda and that trade and immigration were the two top--that, well, we are in a different kind of--these are different times.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Sure enough. But did President Clinton meet the hopes and expectations of the presidents of the region who were hoping for something on free trade and something on immigration?
ISAAC COHEN: Well, the Central Americans were expecting to get some kind of commitment for a free trade agreement with the United States. I think that they got a--well, they agreed that they were going to work later on 2005, as a deadline to build a free trade area in the Americas, and they got an expansion of the CBI--
CHARLES KRAUSE: Caribbean Basin Initiative.
ISAAC COHEN: Caribbean Basin Initiative.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Which is the free trade agreement--a trade agreement between Central America, the Caribbean, and the United States?
ISAAC COHEN: Correct. And I think those are concrete things on trade. On the immigration probably we retained a recognition on the part of President Clinton that there's a special situation with the Central American immigrants obtained to the United States as a result of the war.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Mr. Aronson, from your perspective, was today's agreement significant?
BERNARD ARONSON, Former State Department Official: I think it's significant that the President went to Central America--his trip to Mexico. It's important for the United States to show that we care about Latin America, so that in itself is a good thing. I think Isaac is right; that the President probably provided a little bit more help and comfort on the issue of immigration than he did on free trade. He didn't really depart much from established positions on free trade, and I think there he missed a little bit of an opportunity. The Central Americans had proposed something bold, a regional free trade agreement not negotiated country by country with the United States. They understand that the United States isn't ready to do that today; that Chile is first in line. But I think the power of an idea shouldn't be underestimated, and it might have been a bold stroke for the President to embrace it at least rhetorically, but I think it was a successful visit, and the visit to Mexico was extremely successful.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Sen. Dodd, missed opportunity was one of the phrases. How do you evaluate the President's trip today?
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD, (D) Connecticut: I agree. I think there's unanimity here. This is extremely worthwhile. It's the first visit of an American President to Central America since 1989. It'll be the first visit of an American President at a summit level with Caribbean leaders ever, and of course the visit to Mexico is extremely important. And I think the President was right in describing the realities about the free trade situation. The President has been very clear, in fact, as a candidate in 1992 expressed his strong support for NAFTA. He was able to get that NAFTA agreement through Congress. He has tried over the last now two or three years to get an expanded fast track agreement, and of course a Caribbean trade enhancement act which has been--not been--the action--there are some legitimate issues about environment and labor issues that must be resolved, and I don't minimize the importance of those, but I think it would have been--for the President to say, don't worry, I can absolutely get this for you, you've got to be mindful that there's a place called the Congress up here, which has very strong feelings on these issues, and--
CHARLES KRAUSE: And you are a member of the Congress. Why isn't the Congress willing to work then with the President to get the authority, the fast-track authority which would allow this--these free trade agreements to be negotiated? Why can't you get it passed?
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: I wish I could answer that for you. I happen to be supportive of trying to get the fast track. I want to emphasize I think the environmental and labor issues do have to be resolved, but that question may be better asked of Speaker Gingrich and Majority Leader Trent Lott. I don't know where either of them stand on this and there's been some indication they're supportive, and it's not to suggest this is partisan. There are Democrats--obviously Dick Gephardt has expressed some opposition in the past of these issues--in the House, so we need more emphasis on this, more leadership I think in Congress. The President said he'd like to see it get done, so I'm hopeful that it'll happen. Let me just emphasize to you that if we don't move on this in the next few weeks, it'll get harder as you get closer to the election cycle of ‘98. I think it'll be more difficult politically on these issues, and so it's important that we move quickly.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Mr. Aronson, you worked for both Democratic and Republican administration, and you're certainly someone who's now--I suppose--knowledgable about Washington. How do you evaluate the political situation here with regard to free trade specifically, who's responsible for trying to get something through that will at least help the Central Americans in a time of some need?
BERNARD ARONSON: I think when the Miami summit was held in December of 1994, there was a lot of hope the President embraced commitment to free trade by the year 2005. Then the peso collapsed in Mexico, and I think that undermined the consensus in this country temporarily. But having said that, the United States is missing a huge opportunity in this hemisphere to show some leadership on free trade, and Sen. Dodd is right. The Congress has to give the President that authority. I hope that they'll reach a consensus. This shouldn't be an issue that divides us on partisan basis, and I would hope some compromise could be reached, because as we are failing to move forward, other countries are moving forward. Brazil is taking the lead, the European Union is negotiating with Latin America, and a vacuum has been created in which the United States is failing to take advantage. The special trade representative says that by the year 2010 we're going to export more to this hemisphere than Japan and Europe together.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Fair enough. But we're trying to concentrate on Central America and specifically these five countries. Mr. Cohen, tell me, from Central America's point of view, why is a free trade agreement so important?
ISAAC COHEN: Well, it is essentially because the United States having agreed with Mexico on the North American Free Trade Agreement and Canada, there is a tremendous risk of trade diversion. That means that trade is going and coming from Central America to the United States is not going to be diverted to and from Mexico, and worse still is the fact that there is some investments that are going to Mexico instead of going to Central America. This is the main concern. And I think it's a real concern, and I think the United States has said that since negotiations are in process for creating a free trade of the Americas by 2005, this is the way we should deal with these issues, but in the meantime I think I go back to the point on the Caribbean Basin Initiative, there are some very important products for Central America that still do not enjoy duty free access to the U.S. market, and I think that is the President's commitment in San Jose entails the opening--the U.S. market to those--to those products, I think this is the major breakthrough.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Sen. Dodd, the President, while he wasn't specific on free trade for Central America, free trade agreement, he certainly did talk about his budget and the fact that certain tariffs will be reduced if his budget is passed. What's the likelihood that that will happen, that in fact Central America will get some relief from the current situation?
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: Well, I think that's the strength of our economy. We can do a better job abroad if things are better at home, and clearly with the annual deficit now, it looks as though it may be as low as 70 or 75 billion down from almost 300 billion four years ago, our economy is tremendously strong. That'll allow us, I think, to be more helpful in some of these situations. Let me just underscore the point that was made earlier. Remember, 10 years ago, this very year, 1987, we were talking about Guatemala along with El Salvador, civil war, Nicaragua had a Marxist government there, you had great strength in the region. We're now looking at all of these countries, democratic, the Caribbean, with the exception of Cuba, are democratic governments, and they need our attention, and they need our assistance. It's in our self interest to try and expand the economic opportunities. If not--and I say this with a degree of caution--but these new one-democracies are fragile, and they're going to succeed if it can be proven that this political system can also provide economic opportunity and hope for people and we've got to play a key role in that.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Is the United States doing enough?
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: Well, I think we are under the circumstances and again, I think the fact that, as Bernie has pointed out, these were good trips in Mexico and obviously in Costa Rico, then to Barbados, the President will be going to the summit in Chile following on the summit of course he hosted a year or so ago. He'll be traveling in the Southern Cone. I know from talking with him he has a great deal of interest in this area. I think he regrets we didn't pay as much attention in the previous four years, except for the summit, which is not insignificant, and so I look forward to a lot more interest, a lot more renewed activity here in Congress to see if we can't begin to fulfill some of these promises we've made to strengthen the economic opportunities in this hemisphere.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Mr. Aronson, do you think the United States is doing all that it should, given the history, the recent history--
BERNARD ARONSON: You know, I think we make a mistake repeatedly in Latin America, paying attention when there are crises, and then when the crises are resolved, we turn away, and that's a historic mistake we need to learn from, and I hope that we will learn this time. The Senator is right. These countries need our support and attention. It's also an opportunity for us. We export more to Central America than Europe and Russia today, but if we don't pay attention, then the problems will start to overrun the countries, and I don't think frankly we are. I think the Congress is sporadic in its attention. I hope the President will follow up his trip with real leadership on the fast track, and I hope this idea of embracing Central America and free trade will be--will be supported because you have to create a goal and some hope for people, even if it isn't going to be realized in the next year or two, and given all of the involvement we've had, we ought to now embrace a positive agenda for the region. And there's an opportunity to do so.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Mr. Cohen, you are a Guatemalan citizen. Do you think that the United States is doing all it could for your country and for the other countries in the region?
ISAAC COHEN: I think that the days where the expectation was for the United States to come up with some kind of a system where these countries are really going. I think that we move in times of reciprocity. I think that the Central Americans are committed to a free trade area of the Americas, they're willing to make the sacrifices on the condition that the U.S. opens its market, so instead of aid, we are more interested in trade, I think today in Central America for one thing. On the other hand, no longer are we interested in handouts of foreign assistance because I think those were the instruments of the Cold War. And the fact that today Salvadoran residents in the United States send back about $1.2 billion every year, more than the amount that the United States was pouring in economic assistance for a year in all the countries of Central America is very meaningful, so we are--I think we are beyond the days when the United States was seen as the givers, you know, and its economies were the recipients of favors.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Will it be enough though, is there a danger of political instability?
BERNARD ARONSON: I don't think that Central America or Latin America is going back to dictatorship. I think that people have tasted the fruits of dictatorship on the right and the left, and they don't want it, and I think the forces of the global marketplace keep these countries in line. The real question is: Are we going to have a positive agenda and realize the opportunities and help these countries consolidate democracy and deal with their need for growth, or are we going to kind of be lackadaisical and not pay attention; that's the real issue.
CHARLES KRAUSE: I'm very sorry but we're going to have to leave it there. Thank you all very, very much.