Cumbre de las Américas - Mar del Plata, Argentina 4 y 5 de Noviembre de 2005

Bush Pushes Free Trade at Summit of Americas as Protestors, Chavez Object

Latin America

Bush Pushes Free Trade at Summit of Americas as Protestors, Chavez Object

Nov. 4 (Bloomberg) -- President George W. Bush opened his pitch for free trade at a 34-nation Summit at Mar del Plata, Argentina amid widespread street protests and sharp division among hemispheric leaders.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Bush's chief antagonist in Latin America, told reporters the U.S.-sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas is "dead." Chavez said he came "to bury" the trade pact.

Mexican President Vicente Fox, a Bush ally, countered by saying a trade accord in the Americas will boost growth and should go ahead even if some countries refuse to join. Only about four or five nations are against it, and their opposition is "ideological," Fox told reporters.

Security is tight in the small seaside resort. Police in riot gear patrolled the streets, military boats guarded the beachfront and helicopters buzzed above Bush's hotel. Police estimated 10,000 to 15,000 people were demonstrating in opposition to Bush and his free-trade policies. Chavez is scheduled to speak to the protesters later today. Anti-Bush demonstrations also began in Brazil.

Bush has put free trade and free markets at the top of his inter-Americas agenda, calling that the path toward greater economic growth, eradication of poverty and reinforcement of democracy. At the same time, he has tamped down expectations for any breakthrough on stalled negotiations for a hemispheric free trade accord.

Pushing DOHA Accord

Bush started his day by meeting with presidents of countries that are part of the Central American Free Trade Agreement, an accord ends most tariffs on more than $33 billion in goods beginning Jan. 1.

Bush is urging these leaders to give equal support for open markets at the so-called Doha Round of World Trade Organization negotiations next month in Hong Kong. He is pressing other leaders at the summit to do the same.

Chavez, head of South America's $108-billion economy, the third largest, is challenging Bush over that notion, saying it's a part of Washington's policy to dominate Latin America.

Capitalist agreements "have bankrupted the countries in the region," Chavez said, pointing to Argentina's default. Chavez also said that he will seek to boost his country's trade initiative, the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas, during the summit.

The White House shows little tolerance for Chavez.

"At a time of record high oil prices, one would expect to see a lot of progress against poverty" in Venezuela, White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said Nov. 2 at a briefing on the eve of Bush's departure. "We're not seeing that. We're actually seeing some deterioration in the economy."

Citing Benefits

Bush says free trade and free markets will lead to good government, reduced corruption and investments in education and health care.

Bush met early today with the presidents of Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua and planned to meet later with Andean leaders. He also met with his Argentine host, President Nestor Kirchner.

A recent poll of Latin Americans in business, government, and education in six Latin American nations showed that just 17 percent of Argentinean leaders and 12 percent of leaders in Brazil viewed Bush positively.

The Miami Herald/University of Miami Business School/Zogby Elite Poll of 523 Latin America opinion leaders was conducted Aug. 17 through Sept. 15. It included respondents in the public and private sectors, mass media and academia in Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil.

Bush is scheduled to arrive tomorrow night in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, for a meeting with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. About 1,500 people marched today from the cathedral to behind the U.S. embassy to protest the proposed U.S.-sponsored Free Trade Agreement of the Americas.

Last Updated: November 4, 2005 10:13 EST

IV Cumbre de las Américas | argentina | alca/ftaa | |

valid xhtml 1.0