The Miami Herald
December 15, 2001

 Legal status in U.S. urged for Hondurans


 Central American countries are pleased about this week's U.S. House of Representatives' vote that gave President Bush authority to expedite new free trade deals, but would be even happier if the U.S. government agreed to legalize the immigration status of Central American U.S. residents, Honduran president-elect Ricardo Maduro said Friday.

 ``To us, free trade is a very important hope for the future,'' Maduro said in an interview during a Miami visit. ``But in the short run, we are more interested in the immigration problem.''

 An estimated 300,000 Hondurans living in the United States send about $600 million a year to their relatives back home, according to Honduran government estimates. Remittances, alongside assembly industry exports, amount to one of the two top sources of the country's $2.5 billion a year foreign income.

 Maduro, a Stanford-educated businessman who ran a law-and-order campaign, said he will ask President Bush to legalize Honduran undocumented workers in the United States to help prevent a big drop in the country's foreign income.

 He said Central American countries will demand the legalization of their citizens living in the United States residents ``on a parallel track'' with free trade negotiations. ``It's going to be a generalized petition from Central American countries,'' he added.

 The Honduran president-elect echoed many Latin American countries' mixture of high hopes and concerns about the ``fast track'' bill approved by the House this week, which will give Bush the authority to negotiate free trade deals that the U.S. Congress will be able to approve or reject, but not amend.

 He said that, while he supports free trade, Honduras will have to continue subsidizing its farmers as long as the United States and other developed countries continue with their massive subsidies to their agricultural sectors.

 Maduro was one of dozens of Latin American and Caribbean Basin political leaders who participated in a two-day meeting of the Organization of American
 States-sponsored Forum on Political Parties, aimed at finding ways to restore public confidence in political institutions in the region.

 ``Political parties in Latin America have been to a large extent weakened in recent years,'' he said. ``We have to find new ways to make sure that the people feel

                                    © 2001