ACAPULCO, MEXICO, NOV. 29 -- The presidents of eight Latin American countries called today for new negotiations between developing and industrialized countries to resolve economic problems and warned creditors to ease the countries' debt burden or face "unilateral measures" to limit repayments.
"We call on the heads of state of the industrialized countries to join in a political dialogue that will make it possible to surmount the obstacles to development, to the restructuring of the world economy and to decision-making related to peace and security," said a joint communique at the end of a two-day meeting here. It was signed by the presidents of Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Uruguay and Peru.
Conference participants said afterward that the communique amounted to a call for a new North-South dialogue, a reference to inconclusive negotiations in the 1970s. The sources said the Group of Eight, as the signatories are known, plans to distribute the document in the hemisphere, including the United States, and in Europe.
Although the Group of Eight stopped short of agreeing to negotiate as a bloc with their creditors, attending cabinet ministers said the accord would strengthen the hand of members in individual negotiations with banks and other institutions.
The eight are made up of members of the Contadora Group and the Contadora Support Group, which were formed in 1983 and 1985 respectively to promote a peace agreement for Central America. Although the Contadora plan that resulted has since been overtaken by a Central American peace accord signed in Guatemala in August, this conference -- the first summit meeting of the group -- represents a more permanent structure and a broadening of purpose, observers said.
The meeting also reflected a trend in which Latin America has been distancing itself from the United States, taking more independent positions on political and economic issues. The Guatemala agreement marked a milestone in that process.
Conference participants criticized the Organization of American States, a Washington-based grouping of 31 countries that has long been criticized as dominated by the United States. But they insisted that the Group of Eight did not represent an effort to create a new OAS without the United States.
The eight countries account for about 80 percent of Latin America's population and more than $338 billion of its combined foreign debt of nearly $400 billion.
"The consensus of the eight presidents was that the Organization of American States can be a useful forum for a dialogue of Latin America and the Caribbean with the United States, a North-South dialogue on our own continent," said host President Miguel de la Madrid at a news conference after the signing ceremony. However, he added, the OAS for many years has "not fulfilled its function effectively" and should be the object of a "detailed review and strengthening."
In reference to a side issue that came up during the meeting, de la Madrid said the eight leaders agreed they "should reflect and make the pertinent consultations so that, at an appropriate opportunity, Cuba could rejoin the Organization of American States." However, no mention of this point was made in the communique, and conference sources said that at least one country, Colombia, opposed the idea because of Cuban aid for its M-19 guerrilla organization. The other seven maintain diplomatic relations with Cuba, which was expelled in 1962 at U.S. instigation.
In the communique, the eight declared that "distortions in the international economic system" have threatened their countries with "instability and recession," have lowered living standards and have undermined democracy. "The countries of our region as a whole have been forced to transfer unsustainable proportions of their savings to other countries in order to service their foreign debt," it said.
It called for a "just and permanent solution to the external debt problem, in addition to unpostponable measures to reduce the burden of servicing the debt." The document said negotiations should seek "adequate credit and suitable terms from commerical banks to continue development programs" and "establish interest-rate limits."
The communique said the eight had decided to "instruct our ministers to enter into negotiations as soon as possible with the governments of the industrialized countries, with international financial organizations or with commercial banks."
Among the aims, it said, would be to obtain benefits from discounts in the market value of debts and increase the funding and revise the policies of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank and "sever links" between commercial bank loans and agreements with the IMF and World Bank.