The hemisphere's 34 democracies charted plans for a free-trade zone from Alaska to Cape Horn on Saturday, even without U.S. congressional blessings, and reached agreements on education, drugs and human rights.
At the second Summit of the Americas, the United States also held fast to its insistence that Cuba continue to be excluded from such gatherings - even as it was announced that Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien would travel to Cuba later this month to meet Fidel Castro.Canada will host the next summit of Western Hemisphere leaders. It is expected to occur in 2000, although a date has not yet been set.
President Clinton, who came to Santiago without the fast-track trade authority he needs to finish the job of hemispheric free trade by 2005, pledged to redouble his efforts to get it.
"I assure you that our commitment will be in the fast lane of our concerns," Clinton said, brushing aside his inability to win support for the initiative from U.S. lawmakers, particularly from his own Democratic Party.
But the other nations, while sympathetic to Clinton's plight, were forging ahead, with or without the United States. "We are not starting from zero," Chilean President Eduardo Frei told the summit meeting. He cited free-trade pacts rapidly being forged among Latin American neighbors.
Although trade was the summit's centerpiece, Saturday's talks focused on other areas.
The leaders embraced a $6.1 billion three-year package to help improve education. Summit partners have set a 2010 goal for 100 percent of the hemisphere's children to have access to at least a primary school education; 75 percent for high school.
"We must ensure that schools and teachers reach into every corner of the continent," said Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo.
Most of the package would be in loans by international lending agencies like the World Bank, but $130 million would come from U.S. programs, said U.S. officials, who announced the program in advance of Sunday's final communique.
In all, the hemispheric summit announced some $45 billion in loans over the next three years for poverty reduction, health services, helping small businesses and education.
In other agreements Saturday, the summit partners:
- Agreed to establish a Multilateral Counterdrug Alliance to coordinate the war on drugs in the Americas. In part, it is being set up to soothe irritation felt by Latin American nations toward the current U.S. drug certification process in which the United States withholds foreign aid to nations it considers unworthy allies on drug issues.
- Gave support to the creation of an office, as part of the International Commission for Human Rights, to help resolve human-rights cases involving attacks and threats of violence against members of the news media.
- Embraced a package designed to make it easier to start and operate small businesses, including easier credit terms; and a simplification of paperwork for owning homes and property.
Clinton, host of the first Summit of the Americas in Miami in 1994, was the opening speaker for the second one.
"The journey from Miami to Santiago has been filled with progress toward our goals," Clinton said buoyantly. "There is much to be proud of. The economy of the region has grown 15 percent. Last year, average growth was 5 percent and inflation was the lowest in 50 years."
But, Clinton said, not enough of the those in this "thriving market of 800 million people" were sharing in the economic good times.
"We must take further steps to lift people from poverty and spread the benefit of progress to every member of society," Clinton said.
But the upbeat declarations by some of the summit participants obscured some major irritants, including the drug certification issue and the question of Cuban participation.
Under U.S. law, the State Department must certify a country is cooperating in the war on drugs before a nation qualifies for foreign aid, a process that annoys Latin American countries.
The new Multilateral Counterdrug Alliance will supplement, rather than replace, that system, U.S. officials said.
There are also differences on Cuba. Some nations want Castro included in the next summit. The Clinton administration has opposed Cuban participation under its present communist government.
U.S. officials reacted coolly to Chretien's planned trip to Cuba.
"We have not seen much evidence that constructive engagement with Cuba has produced any material results with respect to human rights or democracy," Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger, told reporters. "I would hope that Prime Minister Chretien would pursue that agenda."
Although Cuba has an embassy here, it did not even have an observer accredited to the summit. It is the only nation in the Western Hemisphere not represented at this weekend's meeting.
Still, Berger said that only one summit participant - Prime Minister Owen Arthur of Barbados - raised the subject of Castro at Saturday's session.
"He said that he believed it was important that there be constructive commitment with them, and that this should be the last summit without Cuba," Berger said. He said Chretien told Clinton about the trip several days ago.
Chretien was among four leaders Clinton met with privately on Saturday. Berger said the subject of Cuba did not come up, mainly because they had discussed it before. "The prime minister is quite aware of our views," Berger said.
However, he said that both Argentine President Carlos Menem and Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso told Clinton that they remain opposed to admitting Cuba at this time.
Clinton also met with Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo and planned to meet with several other leaders on Sunday.
The following member nations would make up the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) planned for 2005:
Antigua, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, United States, Uruguay and Venezuela.