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

Leaders Debate Trade; Protests Wreak Havoc
By DAN MOLINSKI Saturday, November 5, 2005 2:51 AM EST

MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina - President Bush and Latin American leaders entered a final day of talks Saturday to debate the future of a hemisphere-wide free trade bloc, meeting behind an array of street barricades and armed security forces at a summit tarnished by violent street protests.

As the summit's began Friday, rioters smashed the glass storefronts of at least 30 businesses, set fire to a bank and battled police with slingshots and rocks. Police fought back with tear gas and made 64 arrests. No major injuries were reported.

The United States is hoping to use the America's Summit, which ends Saturday, to build support for reviving the Free Trade Area of the Americas, or FTAA, which would eliminate trade barriers from Canada to Chile. It has stalled amid opposition from Venezuela, Brazil and others.

The violent demonstrators failed to break through the first of several police blockades protecting Bush and the other world leaders, and the summit's inauguration ceremony took place without a hitch on Friday. Many of the demonstrators believe meetings such as the Americas Summit that promote trade liberalization aim to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

"What I'm most upset about is that I'll bet you Bush wasn't even told about" the riot, said Mar Del Plata Mayor Daniel Katz, whose seaside city has many residents strongly opposed to Bush and his foreign policies.

On Saturday, summit negotiators are expected to draw up a summit declaration that could call for relaunching talks on the proposed FTAA _ an ambitious proposal originally raised in 1994 at the first Americas summit in Miami.

Mexican President Vicente Fox said the FTAA proposal would move forward in any event because 29 of the 34 nations taking part in the summit were considering cobbling together their own FTAA _ minus opponents like Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. The bloc would rival the European Union as the world's largest, but its creation has been stalled for years amid bickering over U.S. farm subsidies and other obstacles.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez emerged as the most strident opponent of the free trade bloc, addressing more than 10,000 protesters hours before the summit inauguration.

Speaking at a soccer stadium before heading over to the summit, Chavez urged some 20,000 leftist supporters to help him fight free trade.

"Only united can we defeat imperialism and bring our people a better life," he said, adding: "Here, in Mar del Plata, FTAA will be buried!"

Chavez wants an anti-FTAA deal based on socialist ideals, and he has used his country's oil wealth to build support, offering fuel with preferential financing to various Caribbean and Latin American countries.

Washington seems little concerned about Venezuela's vocal opposition.

"It's become clear as the negotiations have moved forward that there is significant support within the region for economic integration and for a Free Trade Area of the Americas," said Thomas Shannon, the new assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.

Outside Mar del Plata, other anti-American protests also turned violent. Four police officers were injured in Rosario in clashes that followed an attack on a branch of U.S.-based Citibank. And in the capital city of Buenos Aires, activists tossed Molotov cocktails at two fast food restaurants and a U.S.-based bank, among other targets.

In neighboring Uruguay, hooded protesters chanting anti-Bush slogans attacked a series of bank buildings, shops and shattered windows in an outburst swiftly quelled by riot police. Leftist groups were blamed.

Most Argentines seemed to reject the violence.

"I don't like Bush, but this is too much," said Ramon Madrid, a hotel manager in Mar del Plata who hurriedly closed up after rioters smashed the windows of a bakery three doors down. "There is no need for violence."

Graciela Tablar, a bank teller, surveyed the chaos in Mar del Plata after the rioters fled and pronounced it "very sad." Tablar had taken part in the peaceful protest march by some 10,000 people earlier Friday, but lamented, "the protest people will remember is the violent one."

Associated Press Writers Bill Cormier, Alan Clendenning, Nestor Ikeda and Vivian Sequera contributed to this report from Mar del Plata.

A service of the Associated Press(AP)

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