Americas summit starts off with deep divisions

Monday, January 12, 2004

MONTERREY, Mexico -- Latin American nations butted heads with the United States on Sunday as they prepared for a major regional summit, arguing over whether to isolate corrupt countries and whether to set a date for a contentious free trade accord.

Government ministers, working until nearly dawn Sunday, couldn't agree on several points of a draft document that will be debated today and Tuesday by leaders of the 34 members of the Organization of American States.

Nearly 20 heads of state were set to arrive Sunday and start a series of private meetings on everything from land disputes to new U.S. anti-terrorism measures. President Bush was scheduled to arrive early today.

The United States wants the summit's draft document to call for re-emphasizing a 2005 deadline for finishing negotiations on a Free Trade Area of the Americas. Brazil and Venezuela say the summit is not the place to discuss the FTAA.

Both countries, along with other Latin American nations, want the United States to first lower agricultural subsidies, something Washington has resisted.

The United States also wants to kick corrupt governments out of the Organization of American States, a move opposed by several Latin American nations.

Meanwhile, Mexican President Vicente Fox was scheduled Sunday to meet with new Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, who was using the summit to introduce himself to his counterparts.

In an interview with "Fox News Sunday," Fox said he would like eventually to work toward the free movement of workers between Canada, the United States and Mexico. But until then, he was pleased with the proposal Bush announced Wednesday to let migrants spend at least three years working in the United States.

"I think that in life you have to get what is real and what you have at hand and not keep on dreaming all the time," Fox said. "And what he is proposing is real. It's interesting."

Although Fox originally pushed for amnesty for the millions of Mexicans living illegally in the United States, he said he no longer believed that was necessary. Mexicans, he said, want to work in the United States, but return to live in Mexico.

"They like tacos. They like their families. They like their community. They like Mexico," Fox said. "Unfortunately, they don't have the opportunities that they would like to have ... so that's why they move."

He also defended the recent cancellation of several Aeromexico flights from Mexico City to Los Angeles that were deemed a security risk by U.S. officials.

"You cannot take risks when life or death is involved," Fox said.

Brazil was not as understanding about stepped-up U.S. security measures. It retaliated against the U.S. decision to photograph and fingerprint foreigners by doing the same to U.S. citizens arriving in Brazil.

Venezuela is also angry with the United States. U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said President Hugo Chavez should show "that he believes in democratic processes" by allowing a recall referendum on his rule. Chavez responded Saturday that U.S. officials shouldn't "stick their noses" in Venezuelan affairs.

Hours after giving up on agreeing on a draft document, government ministers met Sunday with activist groups and business officials. Labor unions and civil associations said they wanted to be active participants in future summits and human rights issues should also be addressed more.

Government officials said they would study that possibility.

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