- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Honduran President Ricardo Maduro yesterday called on the United States to actively engage Central America economically and politically or risk seeing the region slide once again to the left, erasing years of strides toward free-market democracies.
The region, poised to become a success story, was at "a very crucial point," he told editors and reporters at a luncheon at The Washington Times.
"Central American presidents have put their political capital on the line for very significant reforms," he said, referring to efforts by new democracies to fight corruption, establish fiscal responsibility and reform judicial institutions.
But those very leaders need increased support to ensure that the benefits of such reforms make it down to the grass-roots level, or they risk having themselves and their long-term objectives rejected by voters.
"I do believe we are seeing the possibility of a pendulum swing" from democracy back to anti-free-market leftist leaderships, Mr. Maduro said. "We have to provide the people with some real gains quickly. However, the attention we are getting from the international community is not up to the full task."
Mr. Maduro was in Washington on a three-day trip during which he was to meet with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and members of the House and Senate, and address the Council of the Americas meeting at the State Department.
He called on Washington to help the region reach an additional $2.5 billion to $3 billion in annual investments through increased access to international markets. This, he said, would give the region the economic push it needed to keep reforms going.
In a rare show of unanimity, the five Central American nations of Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Costa Rica were working together to negotiate with the United States a free-trade agreement that would eliminate tariffs and other barriers on goods, agricultural products and services.
"I have no doubt that if we partner together … we will be creating success for the future. … We hope to get [a trade deal] done by the end of the year," he told the Council of the Americas forum.
Honduras also is talking with the United States on extending the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) covering more than 90,000 Hondurans living here.
Remittances from these residents are the main source of foreign exchange for Honduras, whose major cash crop, coffee, has been hit by a drop in price profits. Remittances are expected to reach $1 billion by year's end.
Honduran Foreign Minister Guillermo Perez Cadalso Arias said he was optimistic that an agreement to extend the TPS would be reached.

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