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Bush on the defensive denies US neglect towards Latam

Friday, March 9th 2007 - 21:00 UTC
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United States President George Bush rejected in Sao Paulo accusations of U.S. neglect in Latin America. Bush spent Friday in Brazil the first leg of his five countries weeklong visit to Latinamerica.

"I don't think America gets enough credit for trying to help improve people's lives" Bush said at a joint news conference with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. "My trip is to explain as clearly as I can that our nation is generous and compassionate". Earlier in the day the US and Brazil signed a strategic alternative-fuels pact and the two presidents visited a large fuel depot for ethanol tanker trucks. However Bush activities were partly overshadowed by Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez who is staging a tour of Argentina and Bolivia to rival the US president's visit. From Buenos Aires Chavez called Bush's trip an attempt to divide and confuse Latinamerican nations. "The future belongs to us" Chavez told reporters, adding "Oh, ho ho! Gringo go home!" who late in the evening was the main speaker at an "anti-imperialist" rally in a football stadium in Buenos Aires. Asked directly about Chavez's latest activities, Bush refused to mention Chavez by name, a common practice. "I bring the good will of the United States to South America and Central America," he said. "That's why I'm here". Bush noted total U.S. aid has doubled since he took office to 1.6 billion US dollars last year a figure some Latin American critics suggest is misleading. During the visit to the fuel depot presidents Bush and Lula da Silva said that increasing alternative fuel use will lead to more jobs, a cleaner environment and greater independence from the volatility of the oil market. The agreement, signed Friday morning by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Brazilian counterpart, has the U.S. and Brazil joining forces to promote more ethanol use in nations lying between Brazil and the United States. It also creates new quality standards for the alternative fuel. But there were clear remaining tensions on a related issue: the 54-cent-a-gallon U.S. tariff on imports of Brazilian ethanol made from sugar, a measure designed to help U.S. corn growers, the main source of US ethanol. Before Bush's visit, Lula da Silva said the tariff was unfair and that he would press Bush to try to get the U.S. Congress to repeal it. "It's not going to happen. The law doesn't end until 2009. And the Congress will ... look at it when the law ends," Bush said tersely during their news conference. Bush and Lula da Silva also agreed to try to re-launch stalled global trade talks, the WTO Doha round. "We will work together. We will lock our trade ministers in a room, all aimed at advancing this important round", said Bush. U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab was staying behind to meet with Brazilian officials on Saturday morning. Late in the evening Bush and his delegation flew to Uruguay for a 36 hours visit. Brazilian president Lula da Silva is scheduled to visit Bush at Camp David at the end of the month to keep advancing of the bio-fuels and trade agenda. Another side of the US president's visit is protests, although far from the street battles of Thursday in downtown Sao Paulo and other Brazilian cities. About 150 protesters gathered outside Bush's hotel, burning an effigy of the American president with a swastika on his shirt and a Hitler moustache. Protestors chanted "Bush go home," and held up banners decrying American imperialism before a phalanx of military police while Bush and Lula da Silva shared lunch and talked to reporters inside. Later, a crowd of onlookers waved as Bush and his wife, Laura, arrived for a chat with teens at a community centre computer lab. But on the way out a group of about 15 youngsters cursed Bush calling him "assassin" and telling to "go home", however the US president waved and smiled, and other onlookers waved back and took photos. In the Brasilia about 200 university students chanting anti-Bush slogans marched peacefully to the US Embassy where they unfurled Cuban and Venezuelan flags.

Categories: Politics, Latin America.

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