March 10, 1999
Clinton looks forward, not back, on Central America tour

                  SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (CNN) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton will
                  pay tribute to Central America's democratic transformation on Wednesday
                  while acknowledging the U.S. role in the region's brutal civil wars of the 1980s.

                  U.S. officials said Clinton was not expected to express contrition in a speech
                  to El Salvador's Legislative Assembly on Wednesday for the U.S. support of
                  authoritarian right-wing governments against leftist insurgents.

                  Instead, he planned to praise the spread of democracy over the last decade
                  and to urge its consolidation through better protection of human rights,
                  freedom of the press and economic opportunity.

                  "He's going to commend the transformation that's taken place in the region
                  and the strides that a lot of these countries have taken to reconcile the past
                  and move on from the devastating civil wars, insurgencies and conflicts that
                  marked the 1980s," said one senior U.S. official.

                  "He will acknowledge the past, but speak toward building a new relationship
                  for the future," he added.

                  Clinton is in the midst of a four-day goodwill tour of Central America to
                  highlight the U.S. effort to help the region recover from the devastating
                  effects of deadly Hurricane Mitch.

                  U.S. officials said Clinton hoped to use the joint relief work in the storm's
                  aftermath as a model for future cooperation between the United States and
                  Central America.

                  "The partnership we developed in that crisis can be a model for the future in
                  confronting the common challenges that we face," said one U.S. official.

                  Clinton on Tuesday praised the relief work of U.S. troops in Honduras and
                  pledged a new aid package for the nation.

                  "You have shown the people of Central America the true colors of our men
                  and women in uniform," Clinton told several hundred U.S. personnel
                  gathered inside an aircraft hangar at a Honduran air base.

                  At their peak, more than 5,300 U.S. troops swept into Central America to
                  pluck survivors from mud and floodwaters and clean up after the powerful

                  The storm killed at least 9,000 people in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras
                  and Guatemala and left millions homeless.

                  Honduras took the biggest hit from Mitch, with about 5,600 killed,
                  according to U.S. estimates.

                  Honduran President Carlos Flores thanked Clinton for U.S. rescue efforts
                  and added that he interpreted Clinton's visit as a political acceptance of the

                  Trying to forget history

                  While Central American leaders have lavishly thanked Clinton for the relief
                  work that the United States has done in Mitch's wake, they continue to
                  press him on a host of issues, chiefly liberalizing trade and immigration.

                  Some find Washington's decision last week to resume deportations of
                  Salvadoran and Guatemalan illegal aliens a particularly bitter pill given that
                  the region is still reeling from the storm.

                  During the trip, which has taken him to Nicaragua, Honduras and El
                  Salvador and will end in Guatemala on Thursday, Clinton has made only
                  oblique references to the bitter history of U.S. involvement in Central

                  The U.S. role was crucial in supporting a series of Central America's
                  right-wing authoritarian governments which were accused of gross violations
                  of human rights in their fight against leftist insurgencies.

                  In El Salvador, that support translated into $6 billion in aid to the military
                  during a 13-year civil war that killed an estimated 75,000 people before it
                  ended in 1992.

                  El Salvador on Sunday held its second presidential election since the conflict
                  ended, with Francisco Flores of the National Republican Alliance, a party
                  once linked to right- wing death squads, beating former guerrilla commander
                  Facundo Guardado.

                                    Reuters contributed to this report.