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
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
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
"The partnership we developed in that crisis can be a model for the future
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
Reuters contributed to this report.