Highlights of Bush’s Tour of Latin America
In order to challenge the popular belief in Latin America that the United States has forgotten its southern neighbors, President Bush and his wife Laura leave on March 8, 2007 for a five-nation tour through Latin America. “The trip is to remind people that we care,” Bush said in an interview Wednesday with CNN En Español. In this tour, Bush will also argue to those who earn less than $10 per day and wonder if a democratic government will deliver them from poverty that democracy reaps prosperity. Trade, immigration and drugs are the three focus points on US foreign policy in regards to Latin America.
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First Stop: Sao Paulo, Brazil (Friday, March 9, 2007)
During Bush’s stay in Brazil, he managed to forge a weak agreement with the Brazilian government. The U.S. and Brazil agreed to share technology to develop alternative fuels to reduce dependence on oil. Even though Brazil is a self-sustaining oil producer and does not need US aid in developing ethanol, it needs market access. What makes this agreement weak is the fact that the U.S. government is currently not focused on implementing a tariff on Brazilian ethanol.
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Second Stop: Montevideo, Uruguay (Saturday, March 10)
A few days later, Bush met with Uruguay’s president Tabare Vasquez, who also wants to improve trade relations with the U.S. Bush’s meeting with Vazquez focused on immigration, standard of living and trade issues. Bush spoke of his desire to work out a “compassionate and rational immigration law” with Venezuela. Moreover, Vazquez voiced the harm of high U.S. quotas on agricultural items in Uruguay. In their joint press conference, many questions were focused on Bush’s rivalry with Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez. At the time, Chavez counterweighted Bush’s Latin American tour by also touring through the region. Chavez’s tour promoted the Bank of the South, signing on Bolivia and Nicaragua as member states, and he tightened relations with Haiti and Jamaica. During the U.S. President’s stay in Uruguay, his famous speech lapses became ‘The Quote of the Day’. Uruguay’s newspaper El Pais quotes Bush saying during an interview with Fox from Montevideo: “Venezuela has fantastic steak. I mean, Uruguay has fantastic steak.”
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Third Stop: Bogota, Columbia (Sunday, March 11)
In Columbia, Bush showed support for Alvaro Uribe, the President of Columbia, and Columbia’s war on drugs. Bush’s brief stay in Colombia was a breath of fresh air, despite the tight security and the continued resentment of Bush’s tour, which was described by Columbia’s largest daily newspaper as “late” and “irrelevant.”
Fourth Stop: Guatemala City, Guatemala (Monday, March 12)
As much as 10 percent of Guatemala’s population lives in the US, and they send home an rising number of transmittals every year. Therefore, Bush’s guest worker visa proposal became heated debate with Guatemalan President Oscar Berger, who was prepared for the discussion and was more than willing to publicly dispute Bush on the issue of immigration. Responding to Berger, Bush said he shared the Guatemalan President’s sentiments but revealed his inability to effect change without the consensus of Congress: “If we don’t have enough consensus, nothing is going to move out of the Senate. And if nothing moves out of the Senate, nothing is going to happen in the White House.” The two presidents also discussed alternative energy, drug trafficking, and crime.
Still, Guatemala feels that Bush’s visit was useless. In the Guatemalan Daily, an article titled ‘Trip Bears Little Fruit’ explains why the Guatemalans are discouraged with President Bush, “President Bush mentioned the idea of creating a regional plan against drug trafficking, but did not say how it would be prepared, when and with what goals. On the issue of immigrants, he said his country was compassionate, and decent, believes in the family and wants to treat people with respect, but at the same time respects the law. Having said that, the most logical and clearest interpretation is that very little benefit will come to Guatemalans living in the United States without their papers in order.”
Also, Bush visited to the ruins at lximche, the old capital of the Mayan Kaqchiqueles kingdom in Guatemala, in order to demonstrate his administration’s interest in Latin America. However, many Mayans are angry with Bush’s visit to lximche, and as such, they vow to “spiritually cleanse” the site of the “bad spirits” that Bush left behind.
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Fifth and Last Stop: Merida, Mexico (Tuesday, March 13)
In the last stop of his Latin American tour, Bush met Mexican President Felipe Calderon at a joint press conference. He tries to convince Calderon that he is committed to resolving the issues in U.S.-Mexico relations, which worsened with Bush’s agreement to construct a 700-mile (1,130-kilometer) wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
However, Mexican President Felipe Calderon is not impressed. Even though Bush vowed at the start of his presidency that he would make Latin America his priority, he has focused on South Asia and the Middle East since the fall of the Twin Towers. Due to this neglect and broken promise, Calderon informed Bush that the U.S. has plenty to do to solve the drug trafficking and immigration issues between the U.S. and Mexico.
Mexican newspaper El Universal commented on Bush’s visit: “Although a conciliatory but limited attitude was expected on the part of President Bush regarding the issue of immigration, it was good to know that he’s open to exploring not just the lengthy path of Congress for reform on the matter, but that there is a disposition to taking more immediate steps, trying to make our common border a tier of investments and not cops and walls. This implies a shared responsibility, since it commits both governments to creating better paid jobs in this zone. Hopefully they’ve understood in Washington that an orderly and productive border would be a good option to both have a secure border free of the threats that worry them so much.”
Result of Trip
Bush returned home with a long face after poor reviews from Latin America because the region hasn’t experienced such negligent behavior from the U.S. since the Cold War. Moreover, more Latin Americans feel that the U.S. has pulled the welcome mat beneath their feet and they’ve allowed them to fall. In Guatemala and Mexico, Bush left more questions than answers on immigration reform and the fight against drug trafficking than were answered.
“Bush to show soft side on Latin American trip.” CNN. <http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/03/08/bush.trip.ap/index.html>
“Bush’s Latin America trip too little too late” by Luis Miranda < http://www.bendweekly.com/print/3750.html>
“Bush’s Latin America tour unproductive.” Sam Logan. ISN Security Watch. http://www.isn.ethz.ch/news/sw/details.cfm?ID=17366
“Mayans to ‘cleanse’ Bush site.” CNN.
“Bush in Mexico for last stop on tour.” CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/americas/03/13/bush.latin.america.ap/index.html
Photos from CNN.com