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Economic Uncertainty Overshadows Latin Summit - 2001-08-18


A meeting of Latin American leaders at the 15th annual Grupo del Rio conference that began Friday in Santiago is overshadowed by Argentina's financial crisis.

Leaders speaking at the 19-member conference appealed for regional unity in the face of economic uncertainty. The Mexican economy is stalled. Argentina is negotiating with the International Monetary Fund for fresh loans, as it struggles with a $130-billion public debt. And, the Brazilian currency is sliding, amid mounting concerns that Argentina's troubles could spill over. A declaration adopted by the leaders did not specifically name Argentina, but urged the most developed countries to take actions that would alleviate the external debt of countries which need it, and to support the fight against poverty. The declaration appealed for the creation of mechanisms to provide more stability to the international financial system.

Leaders of several Latin nations, including Colombia and Venezuela, also warned that rapid globalization could have detrimental effects, and lead to increasing instability in the region.

Colombian Foreign Minister Guillermo Fernandez de Soto said the leaders needed to discuss the issue.

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The benefits of globalization are ever more distant, he says. What is advancing are what he calls the perverse effects of globalization. He says that is why it is essential for the Group of Rio to address this issue.

The precarious economic situation in the region overshadowed the summit's principal agenda, which was to focus on the gap between rich and poor nations. Officials said that in the wake of rapid technological advances, developing nations find themselves ever more lagging in their efforts to modernize.

Chilean diplomat Mario Artaza said the best developing nations could hope for was to bridge somewhat the so-called digital divide.

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The developing countries were left behind in the industrial revolution. Now, we are facing a new kind of revolution, and we would like to keep abreast of all these technological activities.

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Unlike recent global summits in Sweden and Italy, protests at the Chilean summit have been minimal. On Thursday an estimated four-thousand Chileans marched downtown to lobby for better working conditions and higher salaries. (Signed)

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