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 all the 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.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Next tonight the United States revisits Central America. President Clinton is making the first trip of his presidency to the region. He met today in Costa Rica with seven regional leaders. We take up the role of the United States, past and present, in Central America. Charles Krause has the story.
A RealAudio version of this interview is available.
May 8, 1997:
Charles Krause discusses the possible impact of the summit.
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.
CHARLES KRAUSE: A decade ago Central America was at war, consumed by insurgency, counter-insurgency, and revolution. Tens of thousands of Salvadorians, Nicaraguans and Guatemalans were killed, while in the United States, Central America became a contentious foreign policy issue between Democrats in Congress and Ronald Reagan in the White House.
PRESIDENT REAGAN: In Central America, as elsewhere, we support democracy, reform, and human freedom. We support economic development. We support dialogue and negotiations among and within the countries of the region, and yes, we support a security shield for the region's threatened nations in order to protect these other goals.
CHARLES KRAUSE: The Reagan administration was fearful of another Cuba and determined to defeat what it viewed as a direct challenge from the Soviet Union. As a result, the U.S. poured billions of dollars worth of arms and economic aid into Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.
In Nicaragua, the money went to finance the Contras, a counter-insurgency force armed and trained by the United States. Throughout most of this century, the U.S. mostly ignored Central America, depending on military dictators like the Somozas in Nicaragua to ensure that U.S. interests were taken care of.
When reform-minded governments viewed as hostile to the United States did manage to come to power, they were in most cases quickly overthrown, as happened in Guatemala in 1954, when the CIA organized a coup that ousted Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz.
In the early 60's the Kennedy administration briefly tried a different approach: economic aid and democracy-building. But the alliance for progress was soon eclipsed by Vietnam.
The United States did not focus on Central America again until 1979, when the Sandinistas ousted the last of the Somozas in Nicaragua with help from Cuba. Almost overnight, U.S. concern mushroomed as the Sandinista victory propelled leftist guerrilla movements throughout the region, again threatening Washington's influence an control. In response, by the mid 80's, the Reagan administration was spending well over a billion dollars a year on overt and covert military operations in Central America. To support the army and elections in El Salvador; to support the Contras against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua; to establish a major U.S. military presence in Honduras, including mock invasions by U.S. Marines; to provide covert counter-insurgency support to the army in Guatemala, considered the most brutal in Central America.
Indeed, the Reagan administration was so determined to defeat the left in Central America that it violated a congressional ban on support for the U.S.-backed rebels in Nicaragua, which led to the Iran-Contra affair in the 1986. But the tide began to turn for the U.S. in 1990, when Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas were forced to hold elections which they lost. Violetta Chamorro's victory was supported and cheered by the United States.
JAMES BAKER: In this year of remarkable political change, freedom I think it's fair to say won another victory yesterday in Nicaragua.
CHARLES KRAUSE: With the Sandinistas defeat, the guerrillas in both El Salvador and Guatemala began serious negotiations, leading to peace treaties and elections in both countries. Today, for the first time in a generation, the guns have been silenced, and there's peace throughout the region, but the poverty that caused Central America's past instability remains while the United States has largely turned its attention elsewhere.
U.S. economic and military aid to the region has plummeted from about $1.2 billion 10 years ago to an estimated $125 million this year, a decrease of 90 percent. And according to the prestigious Inter-American Dialogue, a group whose members include five former U.S. and Latin American presidents, no more than a third of the people in any of the Central American countries think they're better off now than in years past.
After today's summit President Clinton and the seven other heads of state signed what they call the Declaration of San Jose. It reaffirms their commitment to a hemisphere-wide free trade agreement within eight years and to a continued dialogue to avoid mass deportations of Central Americans now living in the United States. President Clinton spoke and took questions after the ceremony.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: We work for the cause of peace in Central America and applauded it when it prevailed, and this meeting here, which is I said is the first time since 1968 when President Johnson met with the leaders of Central America--that such a meeting has occurred, and this one has a different agenda, this is designed to send a message that we believe it is in the interest of the United States and the people of the United States, as well as the right thing to do, to have an economic and a political partnership with Central America as we move into the next century.