The Miami Herald
September 6, 1998

Latin leaders focus on economic problems

             By MICHELLE RAY ORTIZ
             Associated Press

             PANAMA -- Falling currencies and stock sell-offs dominated talks Saturday at a
             summit of Latin American leaders, whose region has been battered by fallout from
             the Asian and Russian financial crises.

             Economic worries suddenly became the top priority at the annual one-day
             gathering of the 14-member Rio Group after Latin America's largest market, the
             Sao Paulo Stock Exchange, suffered a 13.9 percent midday slide Friday and other
             Latin markets reported declines.

             ``The impact of the last two days on Latin America was something that we
             probably hadn't expected so soon,'' Mexican Foreign Secretary Rosario Green

             President Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico -- where the market also fell Friday and the
             peso hit a new low -- spoke with summit host Ernesto Perez Balladares of Panama
             and other leaders before the summit's start to suggest they make the global
             financial crisis the main focus, Green said.

             ``They are worried because it's a crisis that greatly affects . . . commerce,
             investment and public spending,'' Green said.

             The 10 Latin American presidents attending the summit along with four top officials
             from other countries planned to sign a declaration Saturday night expressing
             support for open markets and concern over the financial instability sparked by the
             Asian and Russian crises.

             Zedillo, Colombian President Andres Pastrana and Venezuelan President Rafael
             Caldera met privately before the larger meeting, agreeing that their region should
             be able to withstand the troubles because their economic structures are distinct
             from those of Asia and Russia.

             Green said the Rio Group would discuss what steps each nation must take to keep
             the region's economies healthy.

             The economy ``is extraordinarily globalized and interconnected,'' Green said. ``In
             this sense, the consideration must be collective.''

             The declaration addresses regional unity, development, the need to protect
             democracy and human rights, poverty, drug trafficking and terrorism.

             It criticizes the U.S. Helms-Burton law, which punishes businesses that trade with
             Cuba, as harmful to international commerce and as an example of a nation wrongly
             attempting to impose its laws outside its territory.

             Eight nations -- Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Uruguay and
             Venezuela -- founded the group in Rio de Janeiro in 1986. Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador
             and Paraguay joined later.

             Two countries are acting as temporary representatives for their regions: El
             Salvador for Central America and Guyana for the Caribbean.