Bush's Latin Trip - The Low Point of US-Latin American Relations
"The empire is in counterattack, with the head of the empire himself leading the attack, And why? Because they realize that the popular Latin American offensive is for real."
"This is not about Chávez versus Bush or Bush versus Chávez. If this were a personal matter, he would be knocked down long time ago. You know this is not a personal issue." - Hugo Chavez
With the wrap of Bush’s journey down south, experts are already saying the trip will be seen as representing the “nadir” of post Cold War US-Latin America relations and that it went as bad as it seemed. Given all the protests, purifications and lectures by his hosts, I almost feel bad for our President (not). For it is true that he is not solely responsible for the bad blood that decades of coups, death squads and economic strangulation have incurred.
The tail end of the trip, supposedly to right-wing allies in Guatemala and Mexico, ended up being the most humiliating of all. While their complaints were mostly in regards to US immigration policy, the fact they were aired in front of Bush reflected the changed reality of US power and prestige. On the issue Guatemalan President Berger said, “The Guatemalan people would have preferred a more clear and positive response - no more deportations."
The pittances Bush offered his hosts lent himself to ridicule, as Hugo Chavez made significant gestures to Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Haiti along the way. In Venezuela, the virulently anti-Chavez right-wing newspaper El Universal, had this to say about the trip: “Carrying around boxes of lettuce in a colorful Guatemalan coat is not my definition of showing that he’s willing to do poverty alleviation,
Of course, the problem is that Bush is not interested in poverty alleviation, despite the amount of times he mentioned “social justice”. The trip was all about Hugo Chavez, despite the transparently hilarious attempts to ignore him. On that, Bush ended up even more empty handed than ever. Uruguay and Brazil have made their positions on regional unity more than clear and Calderon, with some surprising dignity, showed he is not going to play the game either. He said so bluntly in an interview with The Associated Press, “I am not interested in playing a role with Bush in that respect.” to add insult to injury, his government says it wants to mend fences with Cuba and Venezuela. Surely it did not help that Bush told the largest Mexican newspaper that he thought the symbol of Mexican nationalism, oil giant Penmex, should be privatized before he arrived.
Meanwhile, Hugo Chavez’s trip was a huge success. He had overflowing crowds in Argentina fired up and hanging on his every word, and delivered an agreement with Kirchner to create a South American natural gas cartel, ala OPEC. In Bolivia, where the US media reported he “was getting a cool reception” because he landed in the province of Evo’s political enemies, he won the hearts of the people by offering ten times the aid the US has, in response to terrible flooding there. His entourage was cheered everywhere he went, including the important El Alto suburb or La Paz. There he announced Bolivia’s entry into the new Banco Sud, a counter to the IMF and its dictates.
In Nicaragua, Chavez announced the construction of a new oil refinery, meant to wean the country off its dependence to the ESSO corporation and provide thousands of jobs. The $1.5 billion plant to be located in Leon represents the largest foreign investment in Nicaraguan history, according to Managua’s Mayor.
But Haiti was the probably the highlight of the tip for Chavez. There he rolled through the scariest slums of Port Au Prince, with mobs of young men and women treating him like royalty. He announced a $1 billion fund to assist Haiti's development, including the spreading of Cuban doctors to every town and neighborhood in the country (Cubans already provide most health care there).