Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez warned that President George W. Bush's attempts to bolster trade and improve ties with Latin America threaten to divide the region and undermine economic stability.
"He's dressed in a sheep's skin but he's a wolf trying to divide us" Chavez told reporters before a lunch Friday in Buenos Aires with Argentina's President Nestor Kirchner. Chavez is addressing an anti-Bush "anti-imperialist" rally at a football stadium Friday night in Buenos Aires tonight, across the river from where President Bush will be meeting Uruguayan counterpart Tabare Vazquez to discuss trade ties. Bush and Chavez are offering competing visions for Latin America during their simultaneous trips across the region. Chavez has led efforts to block U.S.-backed free trade deals in Latin America by enlisting allies in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua to support his Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, an accord he says better addresses poverty and economic development. The same day that Bush and Brazilian President Lula da Silva signed an accord on bio-fuels in Sao Paulo, Chavez and Kirchner, meeting at the presidential residence in Buenos Aires, approved a series of agreements to strengthen ties between their state-owned energy companies. Chavez said that Venezuela, the world's third largest oil producer, will reduce the percentage of its oil exports that are shipped to the U.S. while tightening relations with countries such as China, India, and Belarus which will help diversify oil sales. "We should be preparing ourselves for a global economic crisis, and that's what we're doing,'' Chavez said, citing concerns over the U.S. trade and budgetary deficits. Argentina under President Nestor Kirchner has served as a stage for anti-U.S. demonstrations in recent years. Fidel Castro used a visit to Buenos Aires in 2003 to criticize poverty and medical care in the U.S. as part of a speech at the University of Buenos Aires Law School. Bush's appearance at the 2005 Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, Argentina, his last trip to South America before this week, was met with street protests by an estimated 10,000 demonstrators led by Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona and Bolivia's Evo Morales. By the time the summit ended, Chavez took credit for ''burying'' Bush's proposal for a region-wide trade deal linking the Americas. Of all hemispheric countries only Mercosur members and Venezuela rejected the idea of a resumption of talks for a free trade association of the Americas. "Argentina and Venezuela are victims of the same recipe, that was prescribed by the IMF and which Mr. Bush wants to bring back to our people,'' Chavez said. However Latinamerican advisor at the Center for American Progress, Russell Crandall said "Chavez's trip makes him appear desperate''. "If he really is a viable alternative to Bush-led imperialism, why does he need to show up almost across the street from Bush?" Bush and Uruguayan president Tabare Vazquez are scheduled to meet Saturday morning at the Uruguayan Executive camp residence in the county of Colonia, just 60 kilometers across the River Plate from the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires.