Costa Rican President Rafael Calderon opened a Central American summit Saturday, praising President Bush's free-trade ambitions as a potential bedrock for increased regional trade and cooperation.
Joining Calderon for the ninth regional summit were presidents Alfredo Cristiani of El Salvador, Vinicio Cerezo of Guatemala, Rafael Callejas of Honduras and Violeta Chamorro of Nicaragua.Panamanian President Guillermo Endara is attending the two-day meeting as an observer.
Most of the leaders traveled to the Costa Rican capital of San Jose before boarding Soviet-made helicopters, on loan from Nicaragua, for the trip to the Pacific Coast port city of Puntarenas, about 70 miles west of the capital.
After Calderon's opening address, the six presidents met for the first round of talks, which were expected to focus on regional violence, the environment and Central American integration into an economic bloc with the United States and Mexico.
"There are great expectations in Central America about the results of this meeting," Costa Rican Foreign Minister Bernard Niehaus said at the outset of the summit. "But there will be no miracles."
In opening remarks, Calderon said Bush's initiative for the Americas, which calls for establishing a free-trade zone in the Western Hemisphere, "sets a foundation for a new era of cooperation and free trade in the Americas."
The summit agenda was set Thursday and Friday by foreign and finance ministers from the countries.
High on the list of topics was the decade-old civil war in El Salvador and demilitarization of a region that has been plagued with violence for decades.
"Peace isn't just the absence of war, guerrillas or military conflict, but the development of justice and liberty," Calderon said.
Rebels of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN, have intensified attacks against the Salvadoran military since Nov. 20.