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3 Latin Presidents Call for New Era in U.S. Ties

Times Staff Writer

Three Latin American presidents appealed Thursday for a new dialogue with the next American President to forge common solutions to the daunting regional problems of drugs, foreign debt and economic stagnation.

At the start of a three-day summit meeting of seven Latin American presidents, Raul Alfonsin of Argentina, Alan Garcia of Peru and Miguel de la Madrid of Mexico each called for a new era in hemispheric relations based on more mature, balanced ties with the next U.S. Administration.

The opening speeches of all seven presidents shared a common theme: that economic and social disintegration in Latin America not only deprives industrialized countries of potential markets, but also jeopardizes regional security and the future of democratic rule, which was restored in much of the region during the 1980s.

Alfonsin, Garcia and De la Madrid referred specifically to the need for more equitable, cooperative relations with the United States.

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“I am sure that the American people know that a disunited Latin America is not a good neighbor and that an impoverished Latin America is not a good market,” said Garcia, whose country is enduring a withering economic crisis, including inflation of 114% in the month of September alone. His government last month imposed a painful austerity program to combat inflation, prompting looting and strikes.

“Now, a few days before the (U.S.) election . . . is the moment to make this proposal: Whoever wins, he must take up the proposal of Latin America to work together on the great problems of the future,” said Garcia, whose popularity has plummeted as Peru’s economic problems have worsened.

The seven nations--Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela--have become a significant voice for Latin America’s democracies in the search for regional integration and a common stance in negotiations with industrialized countries.

The presidents were markedly less militant in urging solutions to their mutual foreign debt problems than they were at their first summit a year ago in Acapulco, Mexico. The members of the “Group of Eight"--Panama was suspended in February after its strongman, Gen. Manuel A. Noriega, ousted President Eric A. Delvalle--account for more than three-fourths of the region’s more than $420 billion in foreign debt.

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In contrast with last year’s threats of joint action against creditors, the emphasis was on forging cooperative ventures that would benefit both lenders and debtors. Since the Acapulco meeting, Brazil has lifted a moratorium on interest payments, Peru has resumed contacts with the International Monetary Fund and several countries have adopted budget-cutting programs, often at great social cost.

President Jose Sarney of Brazil said that in the last six years, Latin America has experienced a net outflow of $200 billion to the West because of high debt interest payments. While the region struggles to curtail spending, “we have not seen the same determination on the part of developed countries.”

Alfonsin, who has survived two coup attempts since taking office in 1983, said Latin American countries have consolidated democratic rule but now confront “the gravest economic crisis in the history of Latin America.”

“This reality is what prompts us to promote a new hemispheric dialogue. We are ready to foster a new phase in the relations of our region with the United States . . . one that understands that an independent Latin America, democratic and prosperous, is the guarantee of stability in the hemisphere,” he said.

“A dynamic and hopeful region, without the weight of a crushing debt and distorted subsidies, is a precondition for international commercial growth and for every domestic economy, including the American economy,” Alfonsin added. A new, even-handed relationship with the United States would also “dissipate the doubts in broad sectors of Latin America about the sincerity of American objectives in promoting democracy around the world.”

De la Madrid, who leaves office in December after a six-year term that saw the Mexican economy crumble, also reflected on the need for “a new phase in communication, cooperation and negotiation” with the United States. “It is advisable that the political agenda of the next American government gives a high priority to Latin American affairs,” he said.

After the opening ceremony, the presidents began two days of closed-door talks in this seaside resort town. Aides said that key topics would be new initiatives on reducing the region’s debt burden, speeding up regional economic integration and cooperation on the drug problem.

President Virgilio Barco Vargas of Colombia said the scourge of drugs has become “the mortal enemy of democracy.” He said the failure of developed countries to prosecute drug users more harshly is a direct threat to Latin American stability “and of the right to life of our judges, journalists and political leaders,” a reference to the hundreds of murders by drug lords of those who oppose them openly.

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