Central America, The US and Clinton's Trade Initiative
GUESTS: Pres. BILL CLINTON; MARK DANNER, "New Yorker" Magazine; Rep. ROBERT TORRICELLI, (D-Foreign Affairs Cmte.);Former Pres. JIMMY CARTER; BERNARD ARONSON, Fmr. Asst. Secretary of State;
HIGHLIGHT: Recent revelations of human rights atrocities in El Salvador during the Reagan years were not addressed at talks with Central American leaders in Washington this weekend. President Clinton focused on trade.
BODY: FRANK SESNO, Anchor: Central America was once a hot spot for Cold War tensions with the United States backing anti-communist movements throughout the region. The Reagan Doctrine, it was called. But things have changed. And this week President Clinton hosted the democratically-elected leaders from Central America. CNN's Senior Correspondent Charles Bierbauer examines how U.S. policy has changed along with the times.
CHARLES BIERBAUER, Correspondent: Now the guns are relatively silent in Central America. Now its nations are relatively democratic.
Pres. BILL CLINTON: Good governance will advance our mutual objectives to bolster democracy, promote social opportunity, and clear the path for freer trade.
BIERBAUER: NAFTA was the password this week when President Clinton hosted the seven Central American leaders. Free trade, not the arms trade that guided, perhaps misguided U.S. policy in the 80's, and to some degree still haunts the relationship. It was recalled gruesomely in this week's New Yorker, an issue devoted almost entirely to the 1981 massacre of perhaps hundreds in the Salvadoran village of El Mozote. An American-trained Salvadoran army battalion was responsible. Recently, declassified U.S. government documents suggest cables from the U.S. Embassy minimized the massacre then.
MARK DANNER, 'New Yorker' Magazine: This happened at a critical time. The Congress has just passed a law saying that in order for the aid flow to the Salvadoran government to continue, the administration would have to certify that the Salvadoran regime was improving in its observation of human rights.
BIERBAUER: One congressman believes examination of the 11,000 newly-released documents will lead to congressional hearings.
Rep. ROBERT TORRICELLI, (D-Foreign Affairs Cmte.): The issue of whether or not Ronald Reagan signed fault certifications and misled the Congress and the American people about the war in El Salvador and death squad activities is already clear. He lied. We're now only talking about the degree of it and to what effect it had on policy
. BIERBAUER: Reagan policy was a Cold War policy, with red flags of communism erupting in El Salvador and, especially, Nicaragua. A decade later, there are tenuous democracies in each, though El Salvador has experienced a renewal of death squad activity from the political right.
Former Pres. JIMMY CARTER: It's obvious that there is a resurgence. All the human rights groups agree with this.
BIERBAUER: In spite of that, both current and past administration officials feel El Salvador is something of a Central American success story.
BERNARD ARONSON, Fmr. Asst. Secretary of State: It's remarkable that in El Salvador where the killing was so intense and so massive that the peace process has worked as well as it has, so I think we have to be vigilant. The problem isn't cured, but some fundamental changes have taken place.
BIERBAUER: The biggest change may be that Central American leaders no longer come to the White House seeking military hardware. And some officials caution that the worst thing to do now would be to ignore Central America and allow it to lapse back into its old, deadly habits. Charles Bierbauer, CNN, Washington. The preceding text has been professionally transcribed. However, although the text has been checked against an audio track, in order to meet rigid distribution and transmission deadlines, it may not have been proofread against tape.