The Miami Herald
Jun. 29, 2002

Economic globalization praised, criticized

  MERIDA, Mexico - (AP) -- The president of the Inter American Development Bank warned the leaders of Mexico and Central America Friday that the economic
  globalization they are eagerly seeking ``holds opportunities but also threats.''

  The region's leaders met here to boost the Plan Puebla Panama, which will build trade and infrastructure links from southern Mexican states, like Puebla, to Central
  America's southernmost republic, Panama.

  ''There are vast sectors of society who are concerned about the ill effects that globalization can bring to our populations,'' said Enrique Iglesias, whose bank supports the plan but wants to make sure it meets the needs of the region's largely poor, Indian population.

  The two-day summit was attended by Mexican President Vicente Fox and the presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Panama's vice president and Belize's prime minister also attended.

  In a region spooked by the financial chaos in Argentina, Iglesias said that sound economic policies and regional cooperation could serve as protection from ``the
  turbulence that reaches us from international markets.''

  The summit has been a balancing act between the desire for more development and free trade in Central America and southern Mexico, and sensitivity to critics who say the plan opens the door too wide to foreign and private investment.

  Problems like diplomatic spats, divisions caused by the region's civil wars in the 1980s, drug trafficking and massive migration fueled by unemployment have served as barriers to economic development in the region.

  While touting a $3 billion road building effort to connect the region's highways and plans to link Mexico with its neighbors through a gas pipeline and power grid, Fox said social and political improvements are at the heart of the plan.

  ''We should aim our efforts at consolidating the culture of democracy and strengthening the institutions that support it,'' Fox told the meeting.

  In a first for a region that was long considered unattractive for international companies, potential investors and contractors swarmed the summit, drawn by the plans for big construction projects.

  Friday was the last day of the two-day summit.