Six presidents sat down Saturday for a Central American summit to "put the wars behind us" and discuss ways collectively to improve their struggling economies.
The two-day summit began Saturday morning in Antigua, a Spanish colonial town lined with cobblestone streets and topped with red-tile roofs in a valley about 30 miles from Guatemala City.The meeting started late because presidents, economic ministers, foreign ministers and others from Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama gathered around televisions to watch Costa Rica play Brazil in the World Cup.
A Costa Rican government source said President Rafael Calderon, an avid soccer fan, had asked the night before that he be able to watch "at least the first half." Costa Rica lost 1-0.
In a speech opening the summit, Guatemalan President Vinicio Cerezo urged his colleagues "to put the wars behind us and begin constructing the means for an exchange of ideas to strengthen democracy.
"If war is an act against humanity, then poverty is an act for which humanity is responsible," Cerezo said. "We have to confront the problems of poverty, injustice and political and social differences between us."
The stated theme of the summit was to seek ways to collectively improve the region's economies, including the formation of a Central American economic community along the lines of the European Community for the six Central American countries to trade as a bloc on world markets.
"To do that, we first have to remove the internal obstacles to exchange," said Guatemalan Foreign Minister Ariel Rivera. "If we can't openly trade among ourselves, how can we open up to the outside?"
Secretary of State James Baker was scheduled to arrive in Guatemala Sunday night and meet individually with each of the presidents.
A reliable source in international finance said Baker would encourage the formation of a Central American economic community, and he would propose allying it with the United States, Europe and Japan.