Bush's Remarks Seen As a Jab at Chavez
By DEB RIECHMANN
BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) - In a clear jab at Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, President Bush called on Latin Americans on Sunday to boldly defend strong democratic institutions and reject any drift back to the days of authoritarian rule.
Bush's remarks came after Chavez, the leftist leader and friend of Cuba's Fidel Castro, spent the past two days hurling criticism at the United States at the Summit of the Americas in Argentina.
Eyeing three upcoming presidential elections in Latin America, Bush said citizens must choose ``between two competing visions'' for their future.
One, he said, pursues representative government, integration into the world community and freedom's transformative power for individuals.
``The other seeks to roll back the democratic progress of the past two decades by playing to fear, pitting neighbor against neighbor and blaming others for their own failures to provide for the people,'' he said. ``We must make tough decisions today to ensure a better tomorrow.''
Bush also urged Brazil, the continent's largest economy, to use its considerable regional influence to prod into reality a U.S.-backed Free Trade Area of the Americas. Bush believes such a free-trade zone stretching from Alaska to Argentina would create jobs and lift the region's 220 million poor to better lives.
That could be a tall order for Brazil.
At the Americas summit, the United States and 28 other countries supported setting a date to restart negotiations on creating the trading bloc. But because Brazil and four other nations preferred to wait for world trade negotiations to take place in December, no agreement was reached on new talks.
So Sunday, Bush appeared determined to move on from the divisions over the FTAA talks and focus on those World Trade Organization negotiations in Hong Kong. The talks are aimed at cutting tariffs worldwide.
In the hope that success in the global talks would invigorate the FTAA's chances, Bush said he agrees with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva that the United States must drop agriculture subsidies so it is easier for farmers in the developing world to compete. Bush said the United States promises to reduce and then eliminate those ``trade-distorting subsidies'' - as long as Europe does the same.
``Only an ambitious reform agenda in agriculture, and manufactured goods, and services can ensure that the benefits of free and fair trade are enjoyed by all people in all countries,'' Bush said.
Bush's five-day trip, which concludes with a visit to Panama Sunday and Monday, comes as there is growing mistrust in Latin America about the United States.
The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq revived memories of the ``gunboat diplomacy'' era of U.S.-Latin American relations of a century ago. There also has been deep concern about the failure to find the weapons of mass destruction that Bush alleged Iraq had. Disclosures of prisoner abuse by U.S. soldiers in Iraq and elsewhere added strains.
``I fully understand there's, at times, a view of America that is, in my opinion, not an accurate view,'' Bush said earlier in the day at a round-table with young Brazilian leaders.
Bush had good reason to make his push for freer trade, a better image for the United States and democracy here. Brazil has influence with Venezuela and in Bolivia where the leading candidate in the Dec. 4 presidential election is the founder of the Movement Toward Socialism political party. Evo Morales has pledged to decriminalize the coca crop and end the U.S.-backed drive to end its cultivation.
Chile also holds its presidential elections in December and Brazil has balloting in October 2006.
``Only a generation ago, this was a continent plagued by military dictatorship and civil war,'' Bush said. ``The successful democracies of the 21st century will not be defined by blood and soil. Successful democracies will be defined by a broader ideal of citizenship - based on shared principles, and shared responsibilities, and respect for all.''
The president's visit was also expected to cement relations with Silva, the leader of a country that represents a lucrative market for U.S. products that Bush would like to expand.
``We carry on tranquil and mature discussions on specific issues that always come up as part of any partnership on this scale,'' Silva said after they met and before they dined on a what Bush called an ``unbelievably good'' Brazilian barbecue of beef, lamb, ox tail and some cheese.
Silva at first was distrusted by Washington because of his leftist origins. But he surprised many by curbing spending and bring inflation down to less than 6 percent a year. He also enacted programs to distribute food and boost education among the poor.
Despite their opposing political leanings, the two share personal chemistry.
Bush joked that Silva promised to take him fishing, but not until after he leaves office because the ``entourage is a little big to go fishing while I'm president.''
Heavily armed police officers wearing bulletproof vests outnumbered the 150 demonstrators who protested with banners saying ``Fora Bush'' (Get Out Bush) at the retreat's entrance.
About 40 students also participated in a sit-in at a local McDonald's that they called a symbol of U.S. capitalism.
``We will remain here until Bush disappears from the planet or leaves Brazil, whichever comes first,'' said one demonstrator, Rosa Marques, a history student at the University of Brasilia.
Associated Press Writers Stan Lehman and Harold Olmos in Brasilia contributed to this report.
Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. George has done more to undermine Democracy than any leftist pig could.