ACAPULCO — The government imposed heavy security Thursday on the resort of Acapulco, where eight Latin American presidents gathered to discuss the region's staggering foreign debt and ways to promote trade with the United States.
About 10,000 soldiers carrying automatic rifles sealed off Acapulco's airport and lined the road to the main hotel strip facing the bay of the famed resort, 180 miles south of Mexico City.
Dozens of armored cars were parked discreetly behind trees and buildings along the airport road, and Mexican coast guard boats crisscrossed the scenic bay, framed by mountains, that first made Acapulco famous in the 1930s.
The presidents of Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Uruguay and Panama make up the Contadora Group and its support group, formed to end Central American turmoil.
"The Attention of the Continent Is on Acapulco," the headline of the Novedades newspaper said.
On the beaches, thousands of foreign and Mexican tourists stretched out on the sand and fought off the hoards of peddlers hawking hammocks, hats, T-shirts and tourist trinkets.
The Acapulco summit is the largest gathering of Latin American presidents since regional leaders met at an Organization of American States meeting in Uruguay in 1976.
The four-day summit is expected to focus on the region's $400-billion foreign debt and efforts to stop protection barriers being raised against its goods entering the United States, the main market for Latin American exports. Harsh rhetoric and suspension threats from at least some of the presidents are expected against the West over debt payment terms.
320 Million People Represented
Representing about 320 million people--80% of the total Latin American population--and $340 billion of the region's $400 billion in foreign debt, the eight countries are well-placed to debate the region's problems.
Though officials have declined to give precise details of the presidents' conclusions, they said there will likely be a call to lower interest rates on Latin America's foreign debt and confirmation of economic integration plans.
The opening session today, in which all eight presidents will deliver speeches, will be open to reporters, as will the closing session Sunday. The rest of the time, the heads of state and their aides will meet in private sessions, both formal and informal.
An estimated 800 reporters are covering the summit, an indication of the wide expectations of long-desired greater hemispheric unity.
The cooperation of the countries, now formally known as the Group of Eight, was initially born of efforts to settle Central American conflicts and end U.S. military intervention in the troubled region.
But the signing of a peace plan in August by the five Central American presidents has taken weight away from the group's peace efforts in the region and led to a desire by the eight governments to work toward greater political and economic unity without the past heavy U.S. presence.
Mexican President Miguel de la Madrid was the host. The visiting leaders are Raul Alfonsin of Argentina, Jose Sarney of Brazil, Virgilio Barco Vargas of Colombia, Eric A. Delvalle of Panama, Alan Garcia of Peru, Julio Sanguinetti of Uruguay and Jaime Lusinchi of Venezuela.