For Immediate Release
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
(San Jose, Costa Rica)
May 8, 1997
PRESS CONFERENCE OF THE PRESIDENT
AND CENTRAL AMERICAN LEADERS
San Jose, Costa Rica
1:20 P.M. (L)
PRESIDENT FIGUERES: Good afternoon, friends. I wish to
express on behalf of the heads of states and government of Central
the Dominican Republic how pleased we are with the results of the
extraordinary work session we have had this morning with President
It has been a very sincere dialogue, a very realistic dialogue, a very
dialogue, and especially, a very friendly dialogue.
I would like to share with you four main conclusions
the outcome of our discussions and which are reflected in the joint
declaration which we have just signed. First of all, we've inaugurated a
phase, a new stage in the relations among our countries. We attach a
special importance to this alliance. It reflects a new visional mood, a
optimistic one, a more mature one, and a more propositional one. And it
demonstrates the existence of a shared agenda, the fundamental objective
which is the well-being of our peoples through the consolidation of
which are more and more open and integrated. And we have ratified this will.
Secondly, we wish to emphasize the brotherly spirit, the
friendship and the understanding which have prevailed in our discussion
topics which we knew were sensitive and complex. We have made a special
effort to reach agreements, to compromise and to understand the realities
which our governments face. Beyond those realities, we found a will to
together and we have opened areas for this dialogue to continue and for
Third, we underlined the importance of having maintained
constant concern of this meeting the social issues, the importance of
for Latin America and for our region is more vital today than ever
share a special concern with the more needy, a concern which reflects
solidarity, not charity, as a means to generate opportunities for
employment and to ensure the dignified life which our peoples demand.
I especially wish to recognize the contribution of women
the developing of economic democracy and how urgent it is to guarantee
non-discriminatory treatment for them in the workplaces, in political
in social relations generally. All this should have a significant impact
the improvement of the quality of life of the coming generations.
Finally, we wish to stress the significant role which
environmental issues continue to have on our agenda. We
have deepened and expanded the scope of the joint declaration of
Central America and the United States, CONCAUSA, and in doing so,
we have helped our region move even further forward as one of
those regions which are noted throughout the world for their
commitment to the rational use and intelligent use of our
national resources. In this regard, we can state that the
decisions we've adopted in this field in this declaration can be
characterized as revolutionary at a hemispherical level.
An essential element to attain institutional
strengthening and to ensure good governance of our countries has
to do with the possibility of expanding our markets and
stimulating investments, which generate employment and improve
the quality of life. I believe that with respect to both topics
-- free trade and investment -- we have moved forward in an
impressive manner in attaining a better understanding and in
acceptance that reciprocity should be the new byword in the
establishment of all our discussions.
MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, the President and
the Prime Minister of Belize and the Dominican Republic would
like to make a special mention to the democratic circumstance
that prevails in all the region: We are committed to strengthen
and perfecting it.
We are aware that, at the threshold of the 21st
century, it is not enough to guarantee access to free, fair and
transparent elections for our citizens. Threatened by formidable
enemies such as narco trafficking and organized crime, it is
indispensable to fortify democratic institutions and to ensure
ways in which civil society can participate more effectively in
the decision-making process.
Nonetheless, it is through the development of
dynamic economies and more equitable social structures that we
will be able to fully grasp the benefits of democratic
governance. To this regard, we are convinced that one
indispensable element to ensure such democratic governance has to
do with the possibility to expand our markets and, with it,
stimulate investments that generate employment and improve the
quality of life of our populations.
Both issues -- trade and investment -- were
positively reinforced during our meeting with President Clinton,
and we would like to emphasize our satisfaction as the new
criteria that will guide our next steps towards the construction
of free trade zones in the Americas.
In closing, let me emphasize the warmth of this
meeting. You, President Clinton, with your insight and your
thoughtfulness, have come to Central America, and with our
friends from the Dominican Republic, have given a new dimension
to our relations. We all came here with high expectations. We
had the opportunity to share out thoughts, but express the
feelings of our hearts. And we all part full of optimism, ready
to continue our work -- work that is circumscribed by the need we
all have to continue bettering the conditions of living of our
people. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
PRESIDENT CLINTON: President Figueres has given an
excellent statement. I will just make a few brief comments.
First of all, I know I speak for all of us who are guests here in
thanking the President and the people of Costa Rica for their
warmth and hospitality.
This is truly a new day for Central America. The
transition from conflict to cooperation has changed the
relationship among the Central American countries and between the
United States and Central America. A decade ago, we focused on
civil wars; now, together, we are fighting against poverty and
fighting for prosperity, stronger democracy and the sustainable
development of our precious resources.
It is this new reality, this new agenda that we
share which brings us here to San Jose for the first summit
meeting between the leaders of the United States, Central America
and the Dominican Republic in 30 years. The people of Central
America have chosen peace and democracy. We must help them to
prove that they made the right choice, that democracy delivers.
Today, we agreed to an intensified ongoing dialogue
between the United States, Central America and the Dominican
Republic to work together on issues that will make a real
difference to the lives of all of our people with a high level
follow-on structure to make sure that our commitments are
Together we looked at ways to strengthen our
democracies and to combat the drugs, crime and corruption that
threaten to undermine them. I'm encouraged by the growing
cooperation among Central American law enforcement authorities,
including the creation of a joint center for police studies in El
Salvador. To advance it further, the United States plans to
establish an international law enforcement academy in Latin
America by the end of this year, modeled on our successful
academy in Budapest. We also agreed to modernize extradition
treaties and to apply them vigorously. Those who commit a crime
in one nation in our region should know that they will have no
place to run and hide elsewhere in the region.
We took important steps to broaden the benefits of
open and competitive trade. Our trade with Central America
exceeded $20 billion last year. That is a 120-percent increase
since 1990. This dramatic increase is the direct
result of the progress the nations of this region have made
toward improving their economies and opening their markets.
To identify concrete actions we can take to expand
commerce even more, and to explore ways to move toward our common
goal of a free trade area of the Americas by 2005, we created a
ministerial level trade and investment council.
The open skies agreement we signed today -- the
first in our hemisphere -- are a powerful example of how we can
move forward together. They will allow our air carriers greater
freedom to increase passenger and cargo services, to lower prices
for travellers and shippers, and literally to bring the Americas
Today, we also agreed that our labor ministers will
meet later this year to exchange ideas on promoting respect for
worker rights and improving working conditions. And we discussed
the issue of immigration. I'm proud that the United States has a
tradition of generous legal immigration. Last year, over 900,000
people legally immigrated to the United States. I will do what I
can to preserve it because I believe America's diversity is one
of our greatest strengths as we move into a new century in an
increasingly global society.
But to maintain that tradition and to do what is
right by people who immigrate to the United States legally, it is
also necessary that we be more effective in stopping illegal
immigration. Our new immigration law is designed to accomplish
that objective. I appreciate the decision by several Central
American nations to criminalize the terrible practice of alien
smuggling, which is also a scourge to all of us.
I do want you to know that enforcing our laws, I am
determined to balance the need for firm controls against illegal
immigration with common sense and compassion. Our country has
greatly benefitted from the talents and the energies of Central
Americans who came to our shores because they were fleeing civil
war. Today, the remarkable progress in that region means that
many can return home. But we want that to occur in a manner
which avoids destabilizing the nations and the economies of
Central America, or creating enormous hardships for children and
There will be no mass deportations and no targeting
of Central Americans under this law. I am working with Congress
to implement the new law so that it does not produce these
Finally, we explored ideas to make a good education
the birthright of every child in this region. We agreed that
education should be a centerpiece of next year's Summit of the
Americas in Santiago, for which today's summit is an important
This has been a full and a productive session.
Again, let me thank my colleagues for the passion and the depth
of commitment they bring to this enterprise, and to our shared
vision for a new partnership between the United States and
Central America on the brink of a new century. Thank you very
Q Good afternoon. Thank you very much, Mr.
President. I have two questions. For you, Mr. President
Figueres, I'd like to know, within the declaration, in the
chapter on strengthening democracy and good governance, I'd like
to know what should be understood in the paragraph that says that
we take on the commitment to update our extradition treaty and
apply it vigorously to make sure that criminals are taken to
justice, where the effects of their crime are felt more severely.
If we are dealing here with a paragraph that is
somehow suggesting for the future any possibility of extraditing
our citizens -- that the Central American contingency meet in
order to be considered by your country to be part of the free
trade agreement and if so, if we are, after Chile, the next one
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I was listening -- you started
talking in Spanish.
Q Okay, so here again. My question is,
PRESIDENT CLINTON: It's been a long day.
Q Thank you. What do you think the conditions
that Central American countries should meet in order to be
considered by your country to be part of the Free Trade
Agreement, and if we do meet those requirements, are we the next
after Chile? Thank you.
PRESIDENT FIGUERES: The biggest -- is that
respecting our constitutions and the independence of the branches
of government in our countries, the judiciary and the
legislative. We will continue cooperating in these areas which
have to do with ensuring citizen security. And in accordance
with our responsibility as Presidents with respect to our
population, I think we should work out together combatting drug
trafficking, money laundering and these modern scourges which
have been developing in our societies and which can only cause
harm to our societies.
This is a reaffirmation of our will to continue
working in that direction, with respect to our constitutions and
to our legal provisions. We are all states under the rule of
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I would like to make one comment
about that from the point of view of the United States. We do
not believe that our sovereignty is undermined by extraditing
people through other countries as long as they follow the same
rules with us, so that we both respect each other's criminal
Now, let me answer your question. First of all, I
believe the that nations of Central America have already gone a
long way toward becoming part of a free trade area by embracing
democracy, open markets and committing themselves to expanded
trade, and committing themselves to increasing international
cooperation. After all, we have the President of the
Inter-American Development Bank here; we have the Secretary
General of the OAS here. We are all working together more. We
are committed already, the United States is, to working with all
the nations that are here present to establish a free trade area
of the Americas by 2005, which is not so very far away.
Now, in between now and then can we do more to have
more reciprocal open trade with the Central American countries?
I believe we can and I have agreed to two steps. The first is
that we have set up a ministerial trade and investment council
here, as a result of this communique, to identify what the next
concrete steps are. But, before that, I have proposed in my
budget an expansion of the Caribbean Basin Initiative and I have
funded it over the next five years, which would permit us to
reduce or eliminate tariffs on a large number of other items
coming from Central America that would further deepen our trade
So, I'm strongly supportive of it. I think the big
steps have already been taken. The next steps are subject to
agreement by our trade negotiators and people who are concerned
about investment. And they can be worked out if we stay on the
path we're on.
Q Mr. President, some of the leaders here today
and some other prominent Central American figures have complained
in recent days that the United States pays attention to this
region only in times of war and in times of natural disaster. Do
you think that that has been a valid criticism?
And to President Figueres, what, if anything, has
President Clinton said today that makes you think that that
attitude would change?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I think there is
some validity to that criticism -- that is, I think there are
some sectors of our society that may have been more interested in
Central America when it was a battleground in the Cold War or
when it could at least be interpreted to have been a battleground
in the Cold War. But I don't think it's a fair characterization
of America as a whole or of the attitude of this administration.
After all, we convened a summit of the Americas
including all the democratically-elected leaders of Central
America and the Caribbean and the rest of Latin America in 1994.
We have worked diligently since then in meeting with and working
with various leaders in this area. We have worked for the cause
of peace in Central America and applauded it when it prevailed.
And this meeting here, which as I said, is the first
time since 1968 when President Johnson met with the leaders of
the Central America, the Dominican Republic that such a meeting
has occurred -- and this one has a different agenda. This is
designed to send the message that we believe it is in the
interest of the United States and the people of the United States
as well as the right thing to do to have an economic and a
political partnership with Central America as we move into the
PRESIDENT FIGUERES: I come to this meeting with a
completely different perspective of what our relationship should
be. The old relationship that we have had in the past is no
longer the one that can most benefit us in the world of a
globalized economy. And today, we have all come as true partners
to share the responsibilities of our development and to look for
common paths through which we can develop. Central America
today, fully democratic and in peace, is willing to pull its own
weight and we are perfectly well aware of the responsibilities in
that respect that we have as leaders of our nations. This is
truly the beginning of a great new partnership.
Q Good afternoon, Presidents. For President
Clinton. The countries of Central America have been complaining
-- complaining that the United States has abandoned Central
America lately. Aside from progressively, steadily liberalizing
trade, in what other way could the United States help the people
of Central America -- for meetings such as this not be considered
as social events with rather rhetorical results that have nothing
to do with reality?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, I think there are lot of
specific ways we can work with Central America apart from trade,
and I mentioned one in my remarks. We intend to establish a law
enforcement academy in Latin America that will serve the people
of Central America in helping them to develop professional police
forces that are effective and respects human rights and effective
We did this in Central Europe, with one in Budapest,
and we have worked with a lot of former communist countries in
the area of law enforcement cooperation in a way that has been
extraordinarily well received there and I believe will be here.
Last night when President Figueres and I had a
chance to meet, and again today in our larger meeting, I
reaffirmed our willingness to work with countries of Central
America to help to expand educational opportunities and to bring
the benefits of educational technology to all students. And I
think there are great opportunities there. I think there are
enormous opportunities for us to cooperate in the environmental
areas in ways that will be helpful to the long-term stability of
the nations that are represented here.
So those are just three areas in which I expect
there to be significantly increased cooperation in the years
ahead. In addition to that, as you know, we still have some
modest aid programs. The Peace Corps is active in many of these
nations, doing very constructive things. So I expect that there
will be other things which will be done in the years ahead.
Keep in mind, the United States has finally voted
for the first time since 1969 -- at least we have an agreement
with the leaders of the Congress -- to balance our budget. And
that will permit us the freedom and the economic stability, I
think, to be a better partner with our neighbors in a whole range
of other areas. But the most important thing is for you to prove
that your economy will work. And I think the plan we're
following will enable you to do that.
Q Mr. President, Central American leaders before
this meeting were saying the new U.S. immigration laws are
causing major economic and political headaches. A State
Department official was quoted today as saying that, given the
situation in Congress, all you have been able to offer them today
was "words and promises and hot air." Did that turn out to be
true, and what do you realistically expect to get from Congress
on immigration between now and the date of September 30th, set
out in the statement today?
And, for President Figueres, if you could, are the
Central American leaders overreacting to the situation?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, first of all, let's
describe what the situation is. There are a lot of immigrants
living in the United States from the countries that are
represented here today who came to the United States primarily
because of upheaval caused in their countries during wars. Some
of those immigrants are there legally, but not as legal
immigrants. That is, there is a separate category of our
immigration law which says if you're, in effect, fleeing
political disruption in your own country you can stay in our
country, but you don't become a legal immigrant with the right to
apply for citizenship after five years. But many of them have
been there quite a long while. Some of them are not legal under
that status, but they've been there quite a long while and they
did come because of the political upheaval.
There are two real problems with just shipping all
of them up and sending them home, aside from the practical
problems of whether it can be done or not. One is that a lot of
them have been in the United States so long that they have
families there, they have children in school, they have lives
that are intertwined with their communities. And it would be
significantly disruptive and unfair to the families and the
The other is that a lot of -- such a dislocation
would rob a lot of these countries of cash remittances that a lot
of these folks are sending back home to their families which take
the place of a lot of foreign aid or domestic economic activity
in keeping the country going. And also, that level of influx
would destabilize them.
So I think it's fair to say that everyone who
studied this understands that the Central America countries -- a
number of them are in a very special category when it comes to
dealing with the immigration laws.
The immigration law that we passed was designed to
help us stop illegal immigration at the border, in the workplace,
and in the court system. And it will achieve that. But we have
to implement it in a way that is humane and recognizes the
special problems created here.
So what I have said is that, number one, for the
immigrants that are there legally, but not as legal immigrants --
that is, they're in the category of people fleeing political
problems at home -- the law says that I can only exempt 4,000
people from being sent back to their countries. I will not
trigger that law until September, the end of September, during
which time I will work with Congress to try to figure out how to
As to people who are generally not in America
legally, there will be no mass deportations and no targeting of
any citizens from any country. They will have to be dealt with
on a case-by-case basis.
And again, I will say, I'm not so sure, as whoever
your anonymous source was, that the Congress will be unwilling to
recognize the fact that these Central American countries are in a
rather special category. After all, the United States government
was heavily involved with a lot of these countries during the
time of all this upheaval. And just as we were quite generous --
and we should have been -- in welcoming Vietnamese people to our
shores after the termination of our involvement in Vietnam, where
our country did not prevail, in these nations where democracy has
prevailed and we want to work with them to succeed, it seems to
me we ought to be sensitive to the disruptions that were caused
during those tough years that we were involved in as a nation.
So I'm not so sure we can't get some treatments.
But the law itself, I want to say, as I said in
Mexico, it's a good thing that we try to stop illegal immigration
because if we don't, we won't be able to keep the American people
in support of legal immigration. So we have to stop it, as much
as we can. But we have to understand, these Central American
countries are in a different category because of what they went
through in the 1980s.
PRESIDENT FIGUERES: I feel that we have advanced a
lot on this subject, which is certainly important to the Central
American nations for many of the reasons that President Clinton
has just mentioned. But on this issue of immigration, your
question was, has there been an overreaction in Central America.
I don't believe that there has been an overreaction and I believe
that we have achieved substantial progress.
If I may, on that, I would like to call perhaps on
President Armando Calderon Sol, because he is really the one
that, in terms of Central America, with President Arnoldo Aleman
led the conversation.
PRESIDENT CALDERON SOL: I would just like to add
that, for us, this new relationship that we have begun between
Central America and the United States, at the time of President
Clinton's visit is profoundly significant. It represents a
recognition by the United States, a recognition of the
contribution that our people make to their economy, a recognition
of the human drama that our people are experiencing in the United
States because of what happens here, because this was the theater
of operations of the Cold War.
Here in Central America, to hear this from the
President of the United States and to hear the profoundly humane
position that he adopts when he looks at the people which have
had so much pain, for us is very encouraging. And he has stated
very clearly that there will not be mass deportations, that they
will seek to work more flexibly with the new immigration law.
But there is time from now until September for a joint initiative
with the Congress and to awaken more awareness within the
Congress concerning this issue which is so important for Central
Today is a very important day, a day of great hope
for all Central Americans who, because of some of the tragic
conditions of violence, had to leave to seek new shores, to find
refuge in the United States.
PRESIDENT FIGUERES: One last question.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. The question first
for President Figueres, don't you think there's very little scope
in having the support of the U.S. government for a draft that
would provide to expand the benefits of the Caribbean Basin
Initiative when the countries of the region would like to have
something more specific than that before the year 2005?
And, President Clinton, don't you think that mere
support of goodwill for a draft is actually a very small
guarantee for the Central American countries when there is a
Congress which is actually against anything that has to do with
free trade or unions or even the democrats, themselves?
PRESIDENT FIGUERES: With respect to trade I feel
that we have made major progress. These countries have
benefitted from the Caribbean Basin Initiative for a number of
years now. And this program is the basis on which we have been
able to expand our exports from the entire region into
traditional markets and also into new markets.
The program that the executive branch of the United
States is submitting to the Congress differs from the situation
of the past. It contains funds to be able to counteract the loss
of tariff income, which would mean expanding the list of products
and the exemptions for many of the products coming from this
Moreover, I think it is vitally important that we
have agreed here to ask our ministers, the ministers who are
involved in foreign trade, to task them with finding new ways,
new creative ways to continue working together as a region with
an eye to the year 2005, the date for which our continent plans
to integrate. So the idea would be that we could advance even
more in the field of trade before that date comes.
With respect to trade, we need to stress investment.
I think this meeting, this summit meeting, in many ways, is a
stamp of approval for the profound reforms that have been led by
the Presidents of the area in the different countries. Today,
the economies are much more open and much more competitive. They
are true democracies, and, of course, this opens up our doors to
greater flows of investment. And ultimately, this is the way for
us to integrate better.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I'd like to try to respond to
your question with two points. First of all, this is not a --
from our point of view -- a vague commitment. I think you should
see this in three steps -- the question of how we might expand
our trade between the United States and Central American
Number one, I have presented a budget to the
Congress which, if the Congress will go along, provides for the
reduction of tariffs over the next five years on a lot of other
goods which would increase trade with both Central America and
the Caribbean. It is fully paid for in my budget. And
therefore, I think we will have -- we have some chance of passing
it, perhaps a good chance. And I certainly intend to fight hard
for it. So there's that step.
Then the second step is that we have agreed to bring
our trade and investment ministers together to identify what we
do after that, what more can we do. Then the third step is
adopting the free trade area of the Americas by 2005.
I know 2005 sounds like a long time away --
especially if you're very young, but it's not so very long. And
if you think about what will then be a trading area of over a
billion people, it is a stunning achievement if we can pull it
off. So I am not excluding the possibility that we can do more
than expand the Caribbean Basin Initiative, nor am I taking for
granted that it will be done, but that is the three step process
Now, the larger point you made is that the Congress
of the United States is opposed to free trade. That may not be
true. There are strong opponents of expanded trade in the
Congress, but there are also very strong supporters. Some people
are just against trade because they think it gives the United
States a bad deal. I think the evidence is squarely against
them. The more we open our markets, the better our economy does.
And we have wages going up for the first time in 20 years, and
last year, more than half the new jobs, for the first time in
many years, coming into our economy were above average wage. So
trade is good for us, not bad.
Secondly, we can get a lot of people in my party
--you mentioned my party specifically -- we can get a lot of
people in my party to vote for a fast track authority if our
trading partners will give serious attention to the question of
making sure that all people in our country get to participate in
the benefits of expanded trade and wealth. That's why I have
advocated that we set up a labor forum to go with the business
forum that will meet as we work toward a free trade area of the
Americas. The more Americans believe that all ordinary working
people in other countries will benefit from expanded trade, the
more likely we are to find support for it in the Congress.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. I have a question for
you and one question for the Presidents of Central America.
Regionally, Central America was looking for NAFTA parity, and
then later they changed things, that they preferred to have a
free trade agreement. Given the sentiments in Congress, what do
you personally believe is the best venue, the most effective to
get that free trade agreement? And also, when do you expect to
have a fast track authority with Congress?
And also, for the Presidents of Central America --
President Figueres or any of the other Presidents that you are
going to seek an amnesty with regard to immigration. I don't
know if you asked for that amnesty of President Clinton, and if
so, what was his response?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Let me answer your question
quite succinctly. I think the best course is for me first to try
to pass my budget which contains an expansion of the Caribbean
Basin Initiative; and second, to try to pass fast track authority
in the Congress this year, which I fully intend to do my best to
do. We're going to work very hard on that. And at the same
time, then, to consult with leaders of the Congress in both
parties who favor this approach about what they believe the best
way to proceed is, because we're all going to have to work
together on this.
While we're consulting with Congress, there will be
this meeting of our ministers, all of our ministers, identifying
what they think the next step should be to continue to expand
trade. So I think that our road map is quite clear, and that is
the one I intend to pursue.
PRESIDENT FIGUERES: With respect to the question of
immigration, it has already been covered by Armando Calderon Sol,
but I would like to go back to your question with respect --
that, first, Central America wanted parity and then later on
began to look for other ways to acquire more investment and how
do we think is the best. Don Alvaro Arzu discussed this issue
extensively this morning in the forum, and I would like to invite
him to answer your question.
PRESIDENT ARZU: Thank you. What we have stressed
and tried to demonstrate is that the region of Central America is
prepared, is ready. It's no longer time for us to be reaching
out our hands to ask for support, although we are grateful for
the support we have received. But instead, we have a desire for
a more longstanding, a more permanent relationship of
partnership, and more than that, we want a free trade agreement.
This is our aspiration.
We need to follow certain parameters, which are
requirements, with Congress for example; also with public
opinion, the press, -- in communication. But what we mostly want
to tell the American union is that we are ready. In Central
America we are ready to compete. We are ready to receive
investment. We are ready to generate production. And we are
ready to diversify the results and the profits that we attract
among the large mass of impoverished people in our region in
order to begin shrinking the very profound socioeconomic gap that
we still have. So we want to go beyond that and I think we can
PRESIDENT FIGUERES: Thank you. This concludes the
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