Bush & Chavez duel in Latin America


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

March 8, 2007

Bush Faces Clash of Agendas in Latin America

SÃO PAULO, Brazil, March 8 ‹ President Bush arrived here tonight for the start 
of what he has portrayed as a ³We Care² tour aimed at dispelling perceptions 
that he has neglected his southern neighbors.

But the fresh graffiti on streets here in South America¹s largest city calls Mr.
Bush a murderer. And the smattering of protests and the placement of 
antiaircraft guns around town that have preceded his arrival present an 
alternate interpretation of his visit: as a clash between the United 
States-style capitalism he espouses and the socialist approach pushed by leftist
leaders who have grown in power and popularity.

And as the Bush administration prepares to use the president¹s five-nation tour 
to highlight a new ethanol development deal with Brazil, the world leader in 
that technology, and American health care and education programs elsewhere, much
of the pre-tour attention is focusing on what may best be called ³The Rumble on 
the River.²

President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Mr. Bush¹s chief nemesis in Latin America, 
will be leading a protest against him in Buenos Aires as Mr. Bush arrives across
the Rio de la Plata in Montevideo, Uruguay, on Friday night. ³Our planes will 
almost cross paths,² Mr. Chávez said this week, although he denied any intention
to sabotage Mr. Bush¹s visit.

Mr. Bush played down Mr. Chávez¹s planned rally in interviews with South 
American reporters this week, telling a group of them on Tuesday: ³I go a lot of
places and there are street rallies. And my attitude is, I love freedom and the 
right for people to express themselves.²

Whether inadvertently or not, though, Mr. Bush irritated Mr. Chávez with a 
speech he gave in Washington on Monday. In it, he said Simón Bolivar, the hero 
of South America¹s independence struggle and Mr. Chávez¹s idol, ³belongs to all 
of us who love liberty.² That remark brought a sharp and sarcastic rejoinder 
from Mr. Chávez the next day during his weekly radio program.

But in spite of administration attempts to minimize the shadow cast on the visit
by Mr. Chávez ‹ who has called Mr. Bush ³the devil² and has pushed an 
aggressively anti-American agenda throughout the region ‹ the tour itself seems 
at least in part geared to counter his influence. Mr. Chávez has built that 
influence in part by showering poor communities in Latin America with money for 
housing and health care and freely dispensing oil at cut-rate prices.

Mr. Bush¹s new agreement with Brazil to increase ethanol production in the 
region represents a way to cut back on the influence Mr. Chavez¹s oil supply 
gives him while at the same time encouraging employment and economic 
development. And before arriving here, Mr. Bush announced a number of new 
initiatives to help the poor in Latin America, whom he referred to, in a venture
into Spanish, as ³workers and peasants.²

He promised hundreds of millions of dollars to help families buy homes and said 
he would dispatch a Navy hospital ship to the region to provide free health 

In his interviews this week, Mr. Bush has repeated that the United States¹ aid 
to Latin America has doubled during his tenure to roughly $1.6 billion a year. 
³When you total all up the money that is spent, because of the generosity of our
taxpayers, that¹s $8.5 billion to programs that promote social justice,² 
including education and health, he told reporters on Tuesday.

But the view from here could scarcely be more different. In an editorial 
headlined ³Uncle Scrooge¹s paltry package,² the conservative daily newspaper O 
Estado de São Paulo on Wednesday noted that Mr. Bush¹s offering amounts to ³the 
equivalent of five days¹ cost of the war in Iraq, and a drop of water compared 
with the ocean of petrodollars in which Chávezism is navigating at full speed, 
from Argentina to Nicaragua.²

Some of Mr. Bush¹s aides this week said they were worried that perceptions in 
the region that the United States had neglected its southern neighbors, and that
frustration in lower classes that had not reaped the benefits of free trade, 
were helping to fuel the region¹s leftist movements.

Stephen J. Hadley, Mr. Bush¹s national security adviser, said, ³It¹s something 
we have not done well enough ‹ getting out the full scope of the president¹s 

Mr. Bush told reporters that he hoped to counter Mr. Chávez¹s message by 
espousing the benefits of free trade.

Asked by a reporter about Mr. Chávez¹s ³so-called alternative development model²
calling for nationalization of industry, Mr. Bush said: ³I strongly believe that
government-run industry is inefficient and will lead to more poverty. I believe 
if the state tries to run the economy, it will enhance poverty and reduce 

He added, ³So the United States brings a message of open markets and open 
government to the region.²

But even Mr. Bush¹s Brazilian hosts seemed divided in their reaction to that 
message. Although President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will be meeting with Mr. 
Bush on Friday to sign the ethanol accord and is scheduled to visit him at Camp 
David on March 31, the party he leads has chosen to support and participate in 
the anti-Bush demonstrations.

The party, the Leftist Workers¹ Party, warned on its Web site that Mr. Bush 
³shouldn¹t count on Brazil for imperialist actions in the region.² One essay 
called him ³the big boss of international terrorism,² while another declared 
that Mr. Bush was ³persona non grata² in Brazil.

³The United States in general and the Bush government in particular are brutally
violent,² wrote Valter Pomar, the party¹s head of international affairs. ³We 
will only be free of this threat when the North American people constitute a 
government on the left.²

Jim Rutenberg reported from São Paulo, and Larry Rohter from Buenos Aires.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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