Extending the benefits of democracy to all the region's peoples and helping 200 million Latinamericans living in poverty to improve their condition are the main purposes of US President George Bush's visit to five Latinamerican countries said Thomas Shannon, Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs.
"The emphasis is in the creation of jobs and improving education and health systems for the 200 million Latinamericans living in poverty", underlined Mr. Shannon who is a member of the delegation traveling with President Bush. "Trade is an important engine for economic growth, but we are aware that dialogue has to be far more wide reaching if we are to overcome the challenges of social and economic development with our friends". When asked specifically about the Free Trade of the Americas Association, a much heralded and Washington sponsored Project, Shannon was rather evasive and insisted that the challenge was ensuring the benefits of democracy and economic growth to all Latinamericans. The FTAA initiative was sent to the back benches during the November 2005 hemispheric summit in Mar del Plata, Argentina, when Mercosur members in a block (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela) voted against the resumption of negotiations in spite of an overwhelming majority in favor. It was a strong blow for the Bush administration's aspirations. "We remain deeply committed with Latinamerica", said Shannon when asked about the apparent eroded US influence in the region. Shannon said that US economic aid to the region since 2001 when President Bush took office "more than doubled", trade agreements have been signed with several countries and in 2006, "virtually every country in the Americas has reaped the benefits of economic growth". "The challenge now it to ensure the benefits of democracy and macroeconomic growth reach all the citizens of the hemisphere", he emphasized. President Bush interviewed by several Latinamerican countries was more specific on what seems the new approach towards the hemisphere, "it's in the interests of United States to have a peaceful and prosperous neighborhood", adding that is why "we take the problems of the region seriously". Bush said that "our presence in the region is sometimes low key but it's most effective", recalling that under his administration aid has more than doubled to 1.6 billion US dollars and direct investment in the area is in the range of 350 billion US dollars. However US analysts argue that President Bush's eleventh trip to the region is more geared to counter Venezuela's leader Hugo Chavez growing influence. "The trip will contribute to spread the programs we're engaged with and let people know we care", said President Bush.