- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 6, 2005

BRASILIA, Brazil — President Bush yesterday said the Western Hemisphere is split over two competing visions — one halting the spread of democracy and another ensuring a better life for all people through representative government.

The president’s black-and-white take was a swipe at Cuba’s communist leader, Fidel Castro, and Venezuela’s leftist president, Hugo Chavez, who led a coalition of weekend opposition during the Summit of the Americas in Argentina.

“Ensuring social justice for the Americas requires choosing between two competing visions,” Mr. Bush said in a speech in the Brazilian capital. “The choices we make will determine which vision will define the Americas our children inherit.”

Mr. Bush’s speech came just one day after his sweeping proposal to establish a free-trade zone from Alaska to Argentina failed to win unanimous support from Latin American leaders.

Although 28 nations supported the pact, Brazil — along with Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela — did not sign onto a proposal to move forward, instead opting to wait until the completion of other trade talks through the World Trade Organization.

Venezuela’s Mr. Chavez went further — he pledged to “bury” the trade agreement, known as the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). He opposes FTAA and has sought to speak for other leaders as he pushes for the creation of a trade zone exclusively for Latin America and the Caribbean based on socialist ideals.

During the weekend, he rebuked the United States, inciting thousands of protesters in Mar del Plata, Argentina, some of whom clashed violently with police, setting businesses ablaze and looting stores.

Mr. Bush, however, said yesterday that trade throughout the Americas will help the hemisphere’s nations “compete with countries like China and India” in global markets.

“Our goal is to promote opportunity for people throughout the Americas, whether you live in Minnesota or Brazil. And the best way to do this is by expanding free and fair trade,” Mr. Bush said.

His comments yesterday also were aimed at Brazil’s president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who was one of the leaders at the summit who opposed an agreement to restart stalled talks on forming such a trade zone. Mr. Bush urged Brazil to use its influence to “help make this vision for the Americas a reality.”

But Mr. Lula da Silva did not back the U.S. president’s plan when the two leaders met to deliver joint statements. Still, he acknowledged the power of the United States to aid Brazil as it strives to establish a sound economy.

“At the same time we defend our national interest, we pursue major democratic values in the international sphere,” he said.

The FTAA would rival the European Union as the world’s largest free-trade zone, but its creation has been stalled for years amid bickering over U.S. farm subsidies and other obstacles.

“Your president has criticized the agricultural subsidies that the developed world pays to its farmers — trade-distorting subsidies that undercut honest farmers in the developing world,” said Mr. Bush, noting he has proposed to “reduce agricultural tariffs and trade-distorting subsidies in a first stage — and over a period of 15 years, eliminate them altogether.”

Mr. Bush said he understands Mr. Lula da Silva’s position.

“He’s got to be convinced, just like the people of America must be convinced, that a trade arrangement in our hemisphere is good for jobs, it’s good for the quality of life,” Mr. Bush said at the joint appearance.

In his speech, Mr. Bush pressed Latin American leaders to continue on the path toward democracy, saying that “some today suggest that democracy has outlived its usefulness. They have misread history.”

Mr. Bush also vowed to implement reforms of the Inter-American Development Bank to tailor it to the real needs of the area and strengthening its role in private investment.

The president announced that Treasury Secretary John W. Snow will work with his counterparts at the bank and discuss options such as giving grants and debt relief to the poorest countries.

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