US President George W. Bush visits Latin America this week to
try to improve his reputation and influence in a region where
anti-American voices like Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez are on
Bush is expected to cozy up to moderate leftists like Brazil's
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, hoping to woo him with a
much-touted plan to cooperate on the production of biofuels like
"This is basically an effort to show that the US remains
relevant in the region," said Peter Hakim, president of the
Inter-American Dialogue, a think tank in Washington.
"It's a trip to demonstrate that it retains good relationships,
particularly with Brazil and Mexico, that it's committed to
Colombia, and that it's not worried about left-wing
Bush will kick off his tour on Friday in Brazil. He will then
travel to Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico on the six-day
trip, his longest ever to the region.
Chavez, the fiery Venezuelan president who is challenging US
influence in Latin America, plans to protest Bush's presence in the
region by leading a rally in Argentina on Friday when his nemesis
will be in neighboring Uruguay.
It is no coincidence that Bush's tour starts in Brazil, a
heavyweight with the clout to contain Chavez. Though Bush and Lula
come from opposing sides of the left-right divide, they are folksy
leaders with a good rapport.
Other important stops will be Colombia and Mexico, two close US
allies. In Bogota, Bush is expected to reaffirm his support for
President Alvaro Uribe, who is fighting a decades-old insurgency
and is a partner in the war on drugs.
The visit to Mexico will be Bush's first since President Felipe
Calderon took office in December. Analysts expect key bilateral
issues like drugs and immigration to be high on the agenda.
In Sao Paulo, officials say Bush and Lula will launch a biofuels
initiative aimed at helping Brazil export its ethanol technology to
the region. Washington hopes it will help the United States reduce
its dependence on Middle Eastern and Venezuelan oil.
Still, some question if Bush's ethanol diplomacy is enough to
counter the checkbook diplomacy of Chavez, who has been handing out
petrodollars to like-minded leaders in the region.
Bush, who vowed in 2000 to make Latin America a "fundamental
commitment" of his presidency, is now being criticized by Democrats
for having "lost" Latin America.
On Bush's watch, Venezuela swung to the left and Chavez-backed
candidates won office in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. The war in
Iraq is also very unpopular across much of Latin America.
(China Daily via agencies March 7, 2007)