Bush faces protests, works to smooth relations in Latin America | VailDaily.com

Bush faces protests, works to smooth relations in Latin America

MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina – President Bush faced ruffled relations in the Western Hemisphere here Thursday with protesters prepared for the U.S. leader in Argentina and Venezuela’s leftist leader waiting to bait him.Bush, who arrived Thursday evening for a two-day summit, is trying to reverse the image that many Latin Americans have of the United States: a powerhouse preoccupied with Iraq and terrorism and little interested in the social and political troubles in the region.Trade and creating jobs to combat poverty and strengthening democratic governments in Latin America are at the center of the fourth Summit of the Americas. It was getting under way Friday in this coastal resort, attended by Bush and leaders and top officials from 33 other democratically elected leaders in the Western Hemisphere.For Bush, who has later stops in Brazil and Panama, discussions with Latin American leaders might ease tensions. The president might also be able to push modest initiatives as evidence of American goodwill.”This is going to be a tough crowd, a skeptical crowd,” said Michael Shifter, a Latin American expert at the Inter-American Dialogue research group in Washington. “With a few exceptions, he’s not going to get a lot of warm abrazos (hugs) from the leaders.”Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, an outspoken critic of Bush and friend of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, has said he would use the meeting as a stage to denounce the U.S. as a “capitalist, imperialist model” of democracy that exploits the economies of developing nations.Chavez, top Cuban officials and demonstrators at a separate “People’s Summit” here, claim Bush wants to open up Latin America to more corporations that will end up enslaving already poor workers.Bush and Chavez were likely to meet on Friday, shortly after Chavez’s speech to a demonstration of mostly anti-Bush protesters. Chavez has joked about whether Bush is afraid of him and said he might sneak up and scare Bush at the summit.Bush’s trip comes as he faces the lowest job approval ratings of his presidency back home:-U.S. military deaths in the war in Iraq, an unpopular conflict in Latin America, have surpassed 2,000.-Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff was charged with perjury and obstruction charges.-Bush had to replace a Supreme Court nominee who withdrew after mounting criticism from members of the president’s own party.”This is an important opportunity to reaffirm U.S. commitment to the Americas, especially in the face of the widespread impression that the Bush administration’s interest in and attention to the region has been on the foreign affairs back burner since 9-11,” said Peter DeShazo, former deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemispheric affairs.Bush wants to revive talks over the creation of a Free Trade Area of the Americas – stretching from Alaska to Argentina – that would overtake the European Union as the world’s largest trade zone.Bush acknowledged that the U.S.-led idea for a free-trade area reaching into every country in the Western Hemisphere, except Cuba, had stalled. A high-ranking Brazilian official, who said he was not authorized to give his name, told The Associated Press on Thursday that 28 of the 34 countries participating in the summit had agreed talks should begin as early as April.European and U.S. farm subsidies and tariffs, and the extent to which countries will cut them, have become the focus of talks aimed at forging a deal before December’s meeting of the World Trade Organization’s 148 countries in Hong Kong.Thomas Shannon, assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Argentina that Bush believes the best way to get the regional talks moving is to have a successful meeting in Hong Kong.”That will kind of remove the larger obstacle in the world trading system that Brazil and Argentina and others have been kind of using as a reason not to move forward more quickly” on the Americas pact, he said.At the summit site, thousands of demonstrators began assembling to criticize Bush’s trade push in the region where an estimated 220 million people are living in poverty.As hundreds of protesters began pouring into the resort for Friday’s protests, police with riot shields redoubled security. Navy ships patrolled offshore as helicopters clattered over the luxury hotel where leaders will meet.Vail, Colorado

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