Clinton Looks to Rehabilitate Central America

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The Latin American export that worries President Clinton most is immigration, which is one reason he spent Monday in Managua. His Central American itinerary this week echoes the falling-domino scenario that Ronald Reagan warned would bring communism knocking on the U.S.A.'s back door, only this time it's people hurt by the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch that are considered the threat. The storm killed 5,000 people when it tore through Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala last year, but it also devastated the region's already fragile economies -- giving hundreds of thousands of people very little reason to remain at home amid ever-deepening poverty while the bright lights of "El Norte" beckoned. Fear of a tidal wave of refugees has made helping rebuild Central America's economies a U.S. priority. "The President wants to eliminate U.S. taxes on certain goods manufactured in Central America," says TIME Latin America bureau chief Tim McGirk. "Labor unions will object, but creating jobs in the region may avoid thousands more illegal aliens working low-wage jobs in the U.S."

The President's immediate mission on his four-day swing through the region is to persuade Congress to part with a further $965 million in aid -- by highlighting the damage wrought by Mitch and the importance of recovery efforts. Of course it would be a lot easier to scare up aid if the region's mountains still teemed with Che Guevara wanna-bes.