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04 November 2005

another American has a lousy time on his overseas vacation

Photo by Daniel Luna, Associated Press

President George W. Bush Jr. is in Mar del Plata, Argentina pushing a hemispheric trade treaty. Outside the hotel, there's a whomp-ass street riot of protesters who oppose globalization of the world economy. Cindy Sheehan, whose soldier son died in combat in the Iraq War, and who led anti-war protests in Texas this summer, is among the Bush protesters.

Here, former Argentine Futbol/Soccer star Diego Maradona models his t-shirt. Is Bush a Nazi? I don't know. All I know is: More and more people, including politicians and government officials, in Europe and around the world don't mind comparing his administration to the Nazis.

Traditionally American presidents who are in deep political trouble at home take overseas trips to show themselves as big world diplomatic stars and to turn the spotlight onto International Achievements.

This one's not working. These are the noisiest, messiest protest riots an American president has blundered into in a long time.


By Finlay Lewis, Copley News Service

4:26 p.m. November 4, 2005

Associated Press
BREAK THE BANK: A protester kicks in a window of a bank during a march against the presence of President Bush in the Fourth Summit of the Americas in Argentina. Bush pressed his free trade agenda in the face of a challenge by Venezuela's leftist leader Hugo Chavez.
MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina – President Bush pressed his free trade agenda on Friday at the opening session of a hemispheric summit in the face of a challenge by Venezuela's leftist leader Hugo Chavez and street violence by anti-American protesters.

The disagreement between Bush and Chavez over trade unfolded against the backdrop of a daylong protest that turned from peaceful to unruly and lawless by evening as about a thousand rock-throwing militants burned an American flag and threw a gasoline bomb that ignited a blaze in a downtown bank at this seaside resort of 600,000.

Argentine police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets as they contained the unrest to about a six-block area less than a mile from the luxury hotel where the American president and the leaders of 33 other nations met in the opening session of a two-day Summit of the Americas. The purpose of the summit is to devise strategies for reducing poverty, promoting economic growth and advancing the cause of political reform.

The unrest grew after Chavez delivered a two-hour address to a crowd of about 10,000 at a local soccer stadium. The throng enthusiastically embraced the Venezuelan leader's anti-American rhetoric, which included a salute to anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in action in Iraq and the focal point of a domestic anti-war movement.

With a six-story banner of the martyred Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara serving as a backdrop, Chavez declared, "Only united can we defeat imperialism and bring our people a better life."

Later, the Venezuelan president joined Bush and other leaders at the opening session of the two-day summit just as the protests began turning ugly.

Bush listened pensively as the summit's host, Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, criticized the American administration for backing International Monetary Fund policies that Kirchner blamed for his country's economic collapse five years ago.

He urged Bush to exercise "responsible leadership" in the hemisphere

Earlier Bush praised Kirchner's leadership for restoring economic growth to his country. He also said that Kirchner's success should strengthen Argentina's hand in loan negotiations with the IMF, an institution many regional critics consider too closely allied with Washington's favored policies.

Bush's woes extended beyond the criticism from Kirchner and Chavez. When he took questions from American reporters he was asked not about hemispheric matters but about the political woes he left behind back in Washington. It was the first time the president had fielded questions in the week since his administration was hit with the indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff.

Bush deflected those questions and tried, instead, to focus on the hemispheric issues on the summit agenda – the same issues Chavez proclaimed he was here to defeat.

Chavez arrived at this seaside resort city in the morning to declare that a proposed hemisphere wide trade deal strongly backed by the Bush administration is "dead," adding, "We are going to bury it here. We are here to change the course of history."

As Chavez was arriving, Bush was promoting his trade agenda at small sessions of other Latin American leaders, many of whom disagree with Chavez and support Bush's trade aims.

But the protesters were solidly with Chavez.

The demonstrations began early with the downtown streets ringing with chants of "Fascist Bush! You are the terrorist" and "Get out, Bush."

Despite the later spasm of violence, the demonstrations appeared smaller and less threatening than the protests at the last summit in 2001 in Quebec City, Canada, or the huge and deadly anti-globalization riots that paralyzed Genoa, Italy, later that year during a summit of the world's major industrial powers.

"It is not easy to host all these countries," acknowledged Bush, as he and Kirchner appeared briefly before reporters following a morning meeting between the two leaders. "It's particularly not easy to host, perhaps, me."

They took no questions, while Latin American reporters said that Kirchner, also a populist critic of American policies both in Iraq and in the hemisphere, used the Spanish word for "raw" to describe the session. Bush characterized it as "good, honest discussion."

In a brief question-and-answer session with reporters later, Bush said he would be civil in anticipation of a possible face-to-face meeting with Chavez during the two-day summit.

"I will, of course, be polite. That's what the American people expect their president to do, is to be a polite person," Bush said.

As negotiators haggled over a draft declaration, Bush met in the morning with the leaders of Central American and Andean countries – minus Venezuela – to discuss improved trade ties with the United States.

Few details have emerged about the precise plans that will be offered by the summit on Saturday at its concluding session for tackling poverty and strengthening economic growth in the region.

However, free trade has emerged as a flash point dividing Bush not only from Chavez but also for different reasons from Argentina and, particularly, Brazil. While the Venezuelan leader dismisses free trade as a ploy to benefit the rich, the latter two nations are balking at a so-called Free Trade Area of the Americas unless the United States agrees to open its markets more fully to agricultural imports.

There were some signs, however, of progress on the FTAA, an idea originally broached at the first hemispheric summit 11 years ago but lately sidetracked while global trade negotiators haggle over the issue of agricultural subsidies.

Mexican President Vicente Fox said that 29 of the 34 nations at the summit would like to bring an FTAA to a conclusion. The holdouts are Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Paraguay and Uruguay. With the exception of Venezuela, all the holdouts are members of a regional trade bloc known as Mercosur.

The FTAA also received a vote of confidence from Salvadoran President Tony Saca, who said, "Today we are not attending the burial of the FTAA in this summit. We, the majority of the presidents have come here to reiterate our firm resolve and commitment to free trade, to an economic opening and to programs that generate employment."

With the FTAA in abeyance in recent years, Bush has followed a parallel strategy of negotiating free trade deals with the Central American countries and a three-nation bloc from the Andean region – Colombia, Peru and Ecuador.

He has consistently argued that expanded trade offers the best opportunity for raising living standards and incomes across the region.

Tom Shannon, assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, told reporters, "It's become clear as the negotiations have moved forward that there is significant support within the region for ... a (FTAA)."

However, he also insisted, "It is important to understand that this is not a meeting about trade ... This is a meeting about leaders from the democratic states in the Americas getting together to discuss common problems, common values and try to construct common responses that ... deliver the goods to the people."

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