United States president George Bush arrived from Brazil at 21:35 local time in Montevideo, Uruguay, the second leg of his five countries Latinamerican trip and is scheduled to leave early Sunday morning for Colombia.
An impressive security operation involving hundreds of US personnel and thousands of Uruguayan forces, cordoned off Carrasco airport where Air Force One and support aircrafts landed, as well as several blocks in downtown Montevideo surrounding the 262 room hotel fully booked for President Bush and his delegation. Helicopters crisscrossed the sky and tens of motorbikes and patrol cars cleared Montevideo's beautiful promenade along the sea as the motorcade with the armored limousine carrying the US president and Laura Bush covered the fifteen minutes trip to the hotel. While trade unions and "anti-imperialist" radical groups held protest rallies in Montevideo's commercial area, some of the people who took to the streets clapped and waved as the motorcade sped past. Most demonstrations ended peacefully, and with minimal police presence, but several people were arrested when some protestors begun attacking a few US firms outlets and looting stores. Bush will meet Saturday morning with Uruguayan president Tabare Vazquez in Anchorena Park, Uruguay's presidential farm, 200 kilometers west of Montevideo and only 60 kilometers away from Buenos Aires. Bush and Vazquez have met before at the White House last May. Anchorena was chosen not only for security reasons and to avoid anti US protests but also because Bush and Vazquez have similar interests: out door activities. The US president, from Texas, is keen in logging and Vazquez, an oncologist, in angling. While the presidents hold a private meeting the US delegation and its Uruguayan counterpart will talk about trade, market access, the Doha round and cooperation in several fields. Uruguay recently signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, TIFA, with the US and is particularly interested in advancing towards a free trade agreement, given the growing problems with its Mercosur partners. Uruguay traditionally a close and strategic South Atlantic ally of the US for almost a century and a half was virtually bailed out by the Bush administration from the 2001/2002 financial crisis that swept the region specially following Argentina's economy melting and decision to default on its international debt. Since then Uruguay's foreign trade has increasingly focused away from Mercosur, with Nafta members (US, Canada and Mexico) playing a greater role. Uruguayan officials are disenchanted with the functioning of Mercosur, and together with the other junior member Paraguay, claim the block has become a two members club, Argentina and Brazil. Asymmetries and limited market access have forced Uruguay to look for other trade options, which the US administration is willing to comply. However the issue is not that simple because the left leaning ruling coalition in Uruguay is divided between pragmatists who are willing to embrace the US and open markets, and the more fundamentalists that demand "Latinamerican solidarity", more Mercosur commitment and adhere to the "anti-imperialist" rhetoric (and funds) which Venezuela's leader preaches in the hemisphere hoping to catch adepts for his Bolivarian revolution and XXI Socialism version. The US delegation is made up of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Cabinet Chief Josh Bolten; National Security Advisor Steve Hadley; Communications Chief Dan Bartlett; Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon; National Security Director Dan Fisk and US Ambassador in Montevideo Frank Baxter. They will be meeting with Uruguay's Finance Minister Danilo Astori; Industry Minister Jorge Lepra; Agriculture and Livestock Secretary Jose Mujica; Education minister Jorge brovetto; Public Health minister Maria Julia Muñoz; Foreign Affairs minister Reynaldo Gargano and Executive Secretary Gonzalo Fernandez. Saturday evening US Ambassador Baxter will be hosting a limited reception to honor the President and Mrs Bush in Montevideo and early Sunday morning Air Force One takes off for Bogota, Colombia. Although Uruguay is considered a safe stop over where President Bush and his delegation will be spending two nights, just a hundred miles away in the Atlantic the nuclear carrier "John F Kennedy" is on duty.