- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 2, 2005

BUENOS AIRES — President Bush will get no reprieve from the political battles of Washington when he visits Argentina for a Western Hemisphere summit this week; street protesters and a slate of resurgent leftist leaders already are lying in wait.

Leftist protesters have been rallying for weeks here and in neighboring countries, and Buenos Aires has been inundated in recent days with anti-Bush placards and pamphlets.

A major labor union is organizing a national strike, while demonstrators are planning to converge over the next few days on the Atlantic coastal city of Mar del Plata, where 34 heads of state will meet Friday and Saturday. Only Cuban President Fidel Castro is not invited.

Yesterday in Mar del Plata, thousands of people opposed to Mr. Bush and free trade protested at a “People’s Summit” ahead of this weekend’s fourth Summit of the Americas. They waved communist flags and images of famed revolutionary Che Guevara.

Arriving in buses and minivans at the seaside resort, the demonstrators gathered at a drab concrete sports complex several miles from the luxury hotel where the leaders of Western Hemisphere nations will meet.

“This is a chance for the real people to hold their own summit,” said Wayra Aru Blanco, a 33-year-old Bolivian Indian, beating a calfskin drum as brightly dressed South American Indian women played reed flutes.

“The United States is in its worst moment before public opinion, and this will be seen in anti-Bush protests around the country,” said Chuni Botto, an activist in Esquel, Argentina.

Inside the summit, Mr. Bush must deal with leaders of the so-called “Pink Tide,” a continental political shift that has brought leftists to power in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.

Peter DeShazo, former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, called Mr. Bush’s trip “an important opportunity to reaffirm U.S. commitment” to the Americas “in the face of a widespread impression” that Washington has lost interest in the hemisphere.

Largely free-market policies, high commodity prices and a strong global economy have boosted economies in Latin America and the Caribbean, though a U.N. report predicts that growth may slow this year and in 2006.

But a wave of anti-U.S. sentiment has helped leaders such as Uruguay’s Tabare Vazquez to win office by campaigning against neoliberal economic policies and global financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, which many voters blame for their economic problems.

Some analysts expect Mr. Bush to push for stronger democratic institutions and social investment, and to call for a resuscitation of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, a hemispheric trade plan modeled after NAFTA and opposed by countries such as Argentina and Brazil.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who casts the deal as a capitalist tool of exploitation, recently said the FTAA was dead.

“The fourth Summit of the Americas comes at a critical moment in U.S.-Latin American relations,” said Richard Feinberg, an adviser in President Clinton’s National Security Council.

“With the passage of [the Central American Free Trade Agreement], there is now a solid North American bloc stretching from Canada to the Panama Canal.

“But much of South America is drifting away. Can Bush reignite the original vision of the first 1994 Miami summit of an integrated Western Hemisphere?”

Mr. DeShazo and others say Mr. Bush will not focus specifically on FTAA but rather address broader issues of trade, social investment, economic growth and assistance for small to medium-sized businesses.

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