Chavez has Bush on the run in South America


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

March 6, 2007

Bush to Set Out Shift in Agenda on Latin Trip

SÃO PAULO, Brazil, March 5 ‹ President Bush arrives here on Thursday with an 
energy partnership plan to create jobs and decrease poverty and inequality, a 
marked shift in Washington¹s priorities for Latin America aimed at countering 
the challenge posed by President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela.

Since 1990, when Mr. Bush¹s father was in the White House, United States policy 
toward the region has focused on free-trade agreements and related economic 
measures, with a secondary emphasis on drug interdiction.

But the growing leftward and anti-American trend in regional politics, led by 
Mr. Chávez ‹ who plans a countertour to coincide with Mr. Bush¹s trip ‹ has led 
to a modified agenda and a renewed effort to rebut complaints by Latin Americans
that the president has ignored their concerns in favor of the campaign against 

³When something isn¹t working after 15 years, that¹s a sign there are 
insurmountable obstacles and it¹s time to change direction,² said Rubens 
Ricupero, a Brazilian diplomat and former secretary general of the United 
Nations Conference on Trade and Development, in an interview here. ³This is a 
very intelligent initiative on the part of the U.S., because there¹s no point in
tying the whole relationship to something that has only produced frustration and

The Bush administration has also signaled a new willingness to consider 
including workers¹ rights guarantees in trade accords. [Page C1.]

Mr. Bush¹s trip will be his longest to the region. But his promises of American 
support and assistance are likely to fall short of what Mr. Chávez, with his oil
wealth, has been delivering recently.

On Monday, in a speech in Washington to the United States Hispanic Chamber of 
Commerce, Mr. Bush said ties between the United States and Latin America had 
helped advance peace and prosperity in the Western Hemisphere. But he also 
appeared to acknowledge the need to reach out more to America¹s southern 
neighbors. ³The fact is that tens of millions of our brothers and sisters to the
south have seen little improvement in their daily lives,² Mr. Bush said, ³and 
this has led some to question the value of democracy.²

Mr. Bush¹s first stop will be here in Brazil¹s industrial capital. He and the 
president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, are expected to sign a 
memorandum of understanding for a recently negotiated program that calls for the
countries to promote the production and use of ethanol, a renewable fuel that 
Brazil manufactures from sugar cane. Mr. da Silva, a former labor leader who 
controls the leftist Workers Party, is also scheduled to visit Mr. Bush at Camp 
David at the end of the month.

But the convergence of strategic interests of the Western Hemisphere¹s two most 
populous countries clearly goes beyond energy. Brazil fancies itself, not 
Venezuela, as South America¹s natural leader. It has also recently shown signs 
of alarm at Mr. Chávez¹s substantial arms purchases and irritation with his 
involvement in neighboring Bolivia, including providing military assistance and 
support for the nationalization of Brazilian-held energy assets there.

³I don¹t think Brazil will accept the idea of being any type of American 
surrogate in the region, or to moderate or contain Chávez,² said Felipe 
Lampreia, Brazil¹s foreign minister from 1995 to 2001. ³But the United States 
wants to bolster Lula as a counterweight, to show that you can have a leftist 
government with a strong focus on social issues, income distribution and poverty
reduction, without being radical.²

Mr. Bush will be sending much the same message at his second stop, Uruguay, 
which signed a trade and investment framework agreement with the United States 
in January. There, he and President Tabaré Vázquez, a physician who leads a 
leftist coalition called the Broad Front, plan to meet at the presidential ranch
to commemorate Uruguay¹s emergence, with American help, from a fiscal crisis in 
2002 and to discuss how to expand commercial ties.

Dr. Vázquez¹s government includes former Tupamaro guerrillas; the guerrilla 
group kidnapped and killed an American official in Montevideo in 1970. But Dr. 
Vázquez, like Mr. da Silva, has migrated toward the center and largely abandoned
the kind of fiery rhetoric that is Mr. Chávez¹s specialty.

³One must be pragmatic,² Dr. Vázquez said in an interview last year. ³Uruguayans
want jobs that provide dignity, an adequate salary, and security. To have that, 
you must have economic growth, which is achieved only through production and 

Mr. Bush¹s itinerary also includes stops in Colombia and Guatemala, two 
countries where political scandals have recently erupted, weakening the 
pro-American governments there. He will end his trip next week in Mexico, where 
the agenda is sure to include immigration, a constant source of tension in 
relations between the two neighbors.

As a candidate in 2000, Mr. Bush vowed that ³should I become president, I will 
look south, not as an afterthought but as a fundamental commitment.² But after 
the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the United States quickly relegated Latin 
America to the ancillary role it played during most of the cold war, creating 
openings that Mr. Chávez, China and even, more recently, Iran have moved to 

Now, however, ³there is a sense that things are not going well for the U.S. in 
the region,² said Peter Hakim, president of Inter-American Dialogue, a 
Washington-based policy research and advocacy group. ³There has probably never 
been so much anti-Americanism and so little confidence in U.S. leadership since 
the cold war.²

That trend has been aggravated, he said, by the emergence of ³such a vehement 
and reasonably effective adversary² in the form of Mr. Chávez.

An overwhelming majority of government officials and academic analysts in Latin 
America take it as a given that the United States has been jolted into action by
the inroads Mr. Chávez has made. But American officials dispute that notion.

³We are aware of the shortcomings of the Venezuelan government and the kind of 
unhelpful role it has played in certain countries in the region,² Deputy 
Secretary of State John D. Negroponte said in a recent interview. ³I think the 
president¹s intent is to accent the positive, and talk about the positive, 
things we want to get done in the relationships with the countries that he is 
visiting rather than to call undue attention to this issue, which is Venezuela.²

And when asked at a press briefing Monday if Mr. Bush¹s trip was ³an anti-Chávez
tour,² Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, said, ³It¹s really 

But Mr. Chávez is acting as if the trip, which he mocks as doomed to failure, is
aimed solely at combating his influence, and has responded with a maneuver of 
his own. While Mr. Bush is in Uruguay on Friday and Saturday, Mr. Chávez plans 
to be leading anti-Bush demonstrations just across the River Plate in Buenos 
Aires, Argentina, where he has cultivated an increasingly friendly relationship 
with that country¹s Peronist president, Néstor Kirchner.

There, as elsewhere in the hemisphere, Mr. Chávez has used Venezuela¹s oil 
riches to win friends and influence. He has bought more than $1.5 billion in 
Argentine bonds, flown poor slum residents to receive medical care abroad and 
proposed a new regional development bank to make low-interest loans.

In contrast, American assistance for the region has lagged far behind. Mr. 
Hadley said that the United States has nearly doubled aid to the region since 
President Bush took office to $1.6 billion annually, although he acknowledged 
that figure was slated to drop next fiscal year. But recent research by the 
Washington Office on Latin America, a group that is often critical of American 
policy in the region, found that the largest portion of money has gone to 
Colombia for military and counterdrug assistance, that Congress has consistently
trimmed aid requests, and that not all funds authorized have been disbursed.

On Monday, Mr. Bush announced several relatively small new initiatives that he 
would ask Congress to finance. They included $75 million for a new education 
program promoting study in the United States, $385 million for programs 
promoting home ownership for low income families, and the development of a 
health care training facility in Panama to serve all of Central America.

³In the short term, Chávez has more to offer because our aid is peanuts,² said 
Riordan Roett, director of the Latin American studies program at the Johns 
Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. ³We¹re talking 
hundreds of thousands of dollars, and he¹s tossing around a billion here and a 
billion there.²

Mr. Bush¹s shift away from an almost exclusive focus on free trade, with its 
calls for austerity and sacrifice in return for access to the American market, 
also reflects domestic political realities. His trade promotion authority 
expires in July, and there are doubts about Congress¹s willingness to approve 
free trade agreements that have been signed with Colombia, Peru and Panama.

³It would not be realistic to expect much² from Mr. Bush¹s visit, said Mr. 
Lampreia, the former Brazilian foreign minister. ³But there is a fresh look at 
Latin America, very much derived from the fact Chávez is there, and a new 
approach that is positive, which is a good thing.²

Thom Shanker and Jim Rutenberg contributed reporting from Washington.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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