Chavez Fills Stadium, Lula Speaks Out, Bush Hides
Hugo Chavez in Argentina, meeting with President Kirchner and speaking to 40,000 in a soccer stadium
Oh, it is going to be a fun few more days. Bush's Latin American adventure is off to a smashing start, with violent street protests, a football stadium filled anti-Bush rally hosted by Hugo Chavez and we haven't even been to the war in Colombia or the corruption in Guatemala yet.
Let's take in some of the sights and sounds. We left off at the Bush-Lula news conference, where Bush got an earful (see below). Here's what Lula had to say afterwards about his private talks with Bush:
“If I had that capacity for persuasion that you think I might have, who knows? I might have convinced President Bush to do so many other things that I couldn’t even mention here.”
Here is what the AP wrote:
Chavez is refusing to cede any ground. While Bush moved on to Uruguay's capital Friday night, staying inside a high-security bubble that keeps protesters at a safe distance, Chavez relished the opportunity to fill a Buenos Aires soccer stadium with leftist supporters after getting another public display of affection from his Argentine ally, President Nestor Kirchner.
Chavez also upstaged Bush on the environmental front, signing deals with Kirchner to promote the use of cleaner natural gas as Brazilian environmentalists warned that Bush's ethanol plan could increase Amazon deforestation.
But both leaders seem locked in a struggle that has become downright personal — and Bush is not ducking from the fight. Just before the trip, Bush even tried to take on the mantle of Chavez's revered independence hero, telling an audience of Hispanic businessmen on the eve of his trip that Simon Bolivar "is often compared to George Washington — Jorge W."
Chavez called that a crude slap to the dignity of the Venezuelan people — and reminded Bush that Bolivar's sword was used to defeat imperialism, his favorite term for U.S. policy.
When Bush promised to send a military ship to regional ports to treat 85,000 poor Latin Americans, Chavez pointed out that 30,000 Cuban doctors, bankrolled in part by Venezuela, are not only treating but living among Latin America's poor.
And when Bush promised more than US$1 million (€760,000) for Bolivian flood victims, Chavez quickly upped the ante to US$15 million (€11.4 million).
During Bush's six hour stop in Colombia, for instance, he will get a glimpse of a U.S. Embassy scholarship program for beleaguered minority descendants of African slaves. But human rights groups note that the United States did little to stop Colombian paramilitaries from forcing thousands of these Afro-Colombians to flee their homes.
All told, Bush aides say U.S. foreign assistance to Latin America totals about $1.6 billion annually. But Chavez has pledged at least $5.4 billion (€4.1 billion) to 18 Latin American and Caribbean countries since 2005.
While Bush moves on to Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico, Chavez will travel to Bolivia to check on flood victims and then to Haiti on Monday, where Venezuela's state-run development bank has pledged US$20 million (€15 million) for health care, education and housing.
"It's very unlikely the White House will be able to build an anti-Chavez coalition on this presidential trip," said Riordan Roett, head of Western Hemisphere Studies at Johns Hopkins University
More notable quotes from the day
"That a person like (Bush), with the persecution of our migrant brothers in the United States, with the wars he has provoked, is going to walk in our sacred lands, is an offense for the Mayan people," Guatemalan (indigenous) activist Juan Tiney said in announcing the area Bush will visit needs to be "cleansed" after he leaves.
Mercedes Merono of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (mothers of those killed in the anti-Communist "dirty war"in Argentina), "This counter-rally is extremely important," she said. "Bush seeks to take advantage of Latin America while Chavez supports the region's independence."
And more from Hugo:
"I believe the chief objective of the Bush trip is to try to scrub clean the face of the empire in Latin America. But it's too late," Hugo Chavez said on Argentine state television. "It seems he's just now discovered that poverty exists in the region."
At the rally Friday night, Mr. Chávez said he had watched Mr. Bush on television in Brazil and concluded that “he is afraid to say my name” because Mr. Chávez’s vision of “21st century socialism” is advancing in the region.
He was responding to the inability of George Bush to acknowledge what everyone knows is going on - an anti-Chavez offiensive