Trade agreement to exclude 2 nations
BY GLENN GARVIN
MANAGUA -- Central America's spreading border disputes took a
Thursday with the announcement that Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala will
sign a secretly negotiated trade agreement today that pointedly excludes Costa
Rica and Honduras.
No details were released of the agreement, hammered out in secret
between the presidents over the past two months at a Nicaraguan beach resort.
But Nicaraguan President Arnoldo Aleman said it would set firm
deadlines for the
three countries to lower trade barriers for one another's goods.
Asked if the agreement was an attempt to isolate Costa Rica and
Aleman would say only: ``This is an alliance between Central Americans for
Diplomats, though, said the deal was a deliberate snub in retaliation
for what the
other three countries see as land grabs by Costa Rica and especially Honduras.
Not only has Honduras been fighting with all three of its neighbors
boundaries, but last month began rigorously enforcing customs laws that slowed
delivery of goods all over Central America.
``Everybody's furious at Honduras,'' one diplomat said. In an
effort to soften the
blow to Costa Rica, Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo traveled there
Wednesday to give the country's president, Miguel Angel Rodriguez, advance
word that the pact would be signed.
Nonetheless, diplomats and economic analysts said the revelation
of the secret
agreement was a discouraging sign that, at a time when most of the rest of the
world is trying to integrate its economies, ancient political feuds are pushing
Central American governments farther apart.
Border disputes have flared during the past two years from the
northern tip of
Central America, where old tensions between Guatemala and Belize have been
renewed, to the southern tip, where Colombia's civil war has spilled over the
mostly unmarked frontier into Panama.
The noisiest disputes have been among the five countries most
Thursday's announcement. Honduras has squabbled with Guatemala and El
Salvador over the maritime boundaries in the Gulf of Fonseca on the Pacific side
of the isthmus, and has ratified a treaty with Colombia on the Atlantic side that
Nicaraguan claimed violated its rights.
The argument between Honduras and Nicaragua got so heated that
began moving troops toward the border late last year before the governments
agreed to settle the dispute in the World Court. Meanwhile, tempers erupted
between Costa Rica and Nicaragua over the San Juan River, which forms the
border between them.
The wrangling over borders has set back efforts by the five countries
to form a
Central American common market.