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LEADERS OF 34 NATIONS SIGN `WATERSHED’ PACT

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Leaders of 34 Western Hemisphere nations signed a free trade declaration Sunday that President Clinton called "a watershed in the history of our hemisphere."

Clinton announced a drive to make Chile the first South American nation to join a free-trade pact that now covers the United States, Canada and Mexico."This should be evidence that we intend to accelerate the process" of achieving the summit's goal of trade without barriers across the two continents by the year 2005, Clinton said.

Talks will begin in May to bring Chile into what is now called the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The Chile announcement, which had been expected, came after Clinton formally ended the three-day Summit of the Americas, which he said "has more than fulfilled our expectations."

Speaking for the smaller nations represented in Miami, Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur said, "Trade is a matter of life or death for the Caribbean." Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo said the summit opens "a new era in our history" and President Itamar Franco of Brazil declared that it will "usher in a lasting era of peace and understanding."

Later, at a news conference - one dominated by domestic and political questions - Clinton defended the summit's failure to take a position denouncing Cuban President Fidel Castro. He said that the omission reflected disagreement over how to best foster democracy in Cuba, rather than mixed views on Castro.

"I don't think you should underestimate the depth of feeling throughout Latin America that every country should be free," Clinton said.

"I think the difference is over the best way to achieve that objective . . . There's no agreement on what the policy should be."

Of the hemisphere's 35 nations, Cuba is the only one that is not a democracy; Castro was not invited to the summit.

After the summit closed, Bolivian President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada announced that his country would host a November 1996 hemispheric summit on "sustainable development," or the pursuit of economic development in harmony with the environment.

Clinton opened his news conference by calling the summit "a watershed in the history of our hemisphere." He said he wanted to be perceived as "a good friend of Latin America," just as he said President John F. Kennedy had been.

Addressing the leaders at their final session, Clinton said: "Future generations will look back on the Miami summit as a moment when the course of history in the Americas changed for the better."

One by one, the prime ministers and presidents signed declarations calling for closer economic and political cooperation. The documents contained a list of 100 separate areas of agreement.

"With this summit, we close a chapter in our hemisphere marked by mistrust," said Cesar Gaviria, secretary general of the Organization of American States.

The centerpiece was an agreement to negotiate a hemisphere-wide free trade pact by year 2005, with "concrete progress" toward the objective by year 2000.

The final decree also calls for stepped up joint action in combating organized crime, illegal narcotics and money laundering. It calls for environmental cooperation, anti-corruption measures and steps to promote democracy.

One of the most emotional concluding speeches came from Haiti's President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whose presidency was restored by the U.S. threat of force and continues to be supported by UN peacekeepers.

"I can tell you that it (democracy) is not a promise, it's not a dream, it's a fact," he said. "It's a fact because we are moving through a process of reconciliation."

"Thank you for having sent soldiers to help us in Haiti," he told the gathering, even though many nations represented at the summit did not contribute to the U.N. peacekeeping force.

Immediately afterward, Clinton was joined by the leaders of Canada, Mexico and Chile to announce the beginning of negotiations to extend NAFTA to the South American nation, whose economy is one of the fastest growing in Latin American.

Clinton thanked Mexico and Canada for "being such good partners" and said the year-old NAFTA had brought "a substantial increase in trade," despite fierce criticism in Congress when it was debated that it would send thousands of U.S. jobs to Mexico.

He welcomed Chile into the agreement, if approved by Congress.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien of Canada said: "We have been the Three Amigos. Now we will be the Four Amigos."

For his part, Chilean President Eduardo Frei, Jr., said the pact would mean "better jobs and better wages for our people."

A senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Mexico, Canada and the United States will work early next year on what conditions are required for joining NAFTA. In May, the parties will actually begin negotiations with Chile.

Venezuelan President Rafael Caldera praised the trade agreement and called it one of reciprocal interests, noting the United State exports more to Venezuela than to Russia and is the largest consumer of Venezuelan petroleum.

"The true market for the United States is Latin America," he said.