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The Americas AFTA NAFTA

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The summit of the Americas in Miami today through Sunday will fail if it produces only a vague statement of intent to create an Americas Free Trade Area (AFTA) in the next century.

It will succeed if it establishes a date for negotiations and achievement nearer than the goals in the Asia-Pacific rim declaration at the APEC meeting in Indonesia; if it brings Chile next year into negotiations on joining the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); if it mobilizes pressure on the uninvited Fidel Castro to allow democratic change in Cuba; if it can make progress on the narcotics and environmental crises.

This is the first summit of the Americas since 1967 in Paraguay. There were a lot more colonels then.

Mr. Castro is the sole surviving military dictator in the Americas, hence his exclusion by the host, President Clinton. The Americas are more democratic today than they have ever been. The debt crisis of the 1980s is basically overcome. The Americas have more believers in free trade and free markets, in power, than ever. There is lots of good news, along with squalor, narco-terrorism and scores of millions left out of the modern economy.

Many of these presidents will be challenging the United States to live up to its own preaching on free trade. Such free trade accords as MERCOSUR (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) have proved their worth. If Chile seems an unlikely North American power, it is already along with Mexico a certified Asia-Pacific trading partner. There are 24 free-trade agreements in the Americas now, including one in the Caribbean to which the United States does not adhere because Communist Cuba does. What remains is the big one, putting it all together.

So while President Clinton preaches the virtues of free trade, some of his 33 guests will hammer him about the U.S. unilateral attempt to isolate Cuba, question his willingness to open U.S. markets to other Latin producers after Mexico, urge him to crack down on consumer demand for narcotics and point with alarm at punitive anti-immigrant sentiment in California's Proposition 187. The days are long gone when the U.S. president does all the preaching.

The Summit of the Americas is not guaranteed to succeed except in self-righteous rhetoric. The Uruguay summit of 1967 promised a Latin American Common Market by 1985. No such thing materialized, reason enough that no such ritual was replicated for another 27 years. The history of U.S. relations with its hemispheric neighbors is paved with slogans, labels and pieties, many forgotten and others only too acutely remembered.

If the Miami summit that opens today can match reality to rhetoric and kick off actual progress toward hemispheric free trade, it would also inaugurate an era leading to true economic and democratic community in the hemisphere, an elusive goal since the 1820s.

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