Bush ignores Venezuela's firebrand Chavez but co-opts his populism

Sunday, March 11, 2007
Local law enforcement officers assisted U.S. Secret Service Saturday in guarding the entrance to La Corte restaurant after President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush made an unannounced stop to have dinner in Montevideo, Uruguay. (PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS ~ Associated Press)

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay -- President Bush claimed progress on trade with Uruguay's president on Saturday, courting another leftist leader on his Latin American tour. "We care about the human condition," Bush said, trying to co-opt the populism of one influential leftist rival he won't meet:~ The administration is trying to strike a freer-trade deal with Uruguay.

Venezuela's firebrand, Hugo Chavez.

In a part of the world where the U.S. invasion of Iraq is particularly unpopular, Bush is not talking much about the global war on terror. And while he won't mention Chavez by name, his soft-sell pitch clearly is intended to counter the Venezuelan leader's rising stature and rants that blame Latin America's poverty on U.S.-style capitalism.

"I would call our diplomacy quiet and effective diplomacy -- diplomacy all aimed at helping people, aimed at elevating the human condition, aimed at expressing the great compassion of the American people," Bush said at a joint news conference with Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez. As he has on other stops, he mentions increases in U.S. aid programs during his presidency.

The two met at the Uruguayan presidential retreat in Anchorena Park, a riverside ranch and national park about 120 miles west of here. Bush traveled by helicopter.

The Bush administration is trying to strike a freer-trade deal with Uruguay. But the efforts are complicated by the country's membership in a rival South American trading bloc.

Expanding exchanges

Uruguay, a tiny coastal nation overshadowed by neighboring Brazil and Argentina, wants to sell more beef and textiles to the United States, its biggest trading partner.

The two discussed U.S. restrictions on Uruguayan imports. Vazquez also said he wanted to expand scientific, technical and cultural exchanges -- all to establish "a better standard of living for our people."

Both agreed to talk more.

Said Vazquez, "We have created a plan starting with this meeting" in which trade and agriculture experts from both countries will meet to iron out differences.

Bush is seeking to shore up relations with democratically elected leaders of both the left and the right in Latin America.

Chavez led a two-hour anti-Bush rally attended by nearly 20,000 people at a soccer stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina, just across the river from where Bush met with Vazquez on Saturday. Chavez called Bush a "political cadaver" and said he was on his way to becoming "cosmic dust." Shouts of "gringo go home!" erupted in the stands.

Shadowing Bush, Chavez plans to be in Bolivia while the American leader is in nearby Colombia. And when Bush is in Guatemala, Chavez will be not far away in Haiti.

Bush has steadfastly ignored Chavez. But it's becoming more difficult as the outspoken Venezuelan steps up his personal attacks.

For the second day, Bush declined a direct answer when a reporter raised the issue of why he doesn't mention Chavez by name.

"I've come to South America and Central America to advance a positive, constructive diplomacy that is being conducted by my government on behalf of the American people," Bush said.

Asked about his differences with Vazquez, given his left-wing background, Bush said: "The temptation is to try to get people to talk about their differences. I want to talk about our commonalities."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: