Latin leaders focus on economic problems
By MICHELLE RAY ORTIZ
PANAMA -- Falling currencies and stock sell-offs dominated talks Saturday
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
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
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
the region's economies healthy.
The economy ``is extraordinarily globalized and interconnected,'' Green
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
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
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:
Salvador for Central America and Guyana for the Caribbean.