- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 3, 2005

MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina — President Bush, attending the Summit of the Americas, arrived last night in this seaside city, where more than 8,000 police officers were on patrol and a tight security ring was placed around his hotel to keep out anti-U.S. demonstrators.

Thousands of leftist activists from Latin America are converging on this city of 600,000 with plans to hold an alternative “Peoples’ Summit” to protest the trade and development policies planned for discussion at the fourth Summit of the Americas.

This year, the summit brings together leaders and top officials of 34 nations.

Mr. Bush’s main critic in South America, leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, is scheduled to speak there today. A Chavez-sponsored train will bring anti-Bush celebrities such as Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona to the city.

Cuba’s Fidel Castro, the only leader from the Americas not invited to the summit, sent a delegation of Cuban athletes to the Peoples’ Summit to support Mr. Chavez.

In a massive demonstration ahead of Mr. Bush’s arrival, thousands gathered to protest his visit, waving communist flags and placards of revolutionary Che Guevara.

The Summit of the Americas will focus on trade and job creation to combat poverty and strengthen democracies in Latin America.

“And what we’re looking to do is find ways to unlock some of these economies so they get the kind of investment they need, they get the kind of trade they need and they have the flexibility within their labor markets to generate employment,” Tom Shannon, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Argentina.

But selling that message likely will be made more difficult by Mr. Chavez, who plans to use the meeting as a stage to denounce the U.S. as a “capitalist, imperialist model” of democracy that exploits the economies of developing nations.

Mr. Bush and the outspoken Venezuelan leader are likely to meet today, shortly after Mr. Chavez’s speech to the largely anti-Bush demonstrators.

Although President Clinton won congressional ratification of the North America Free Trade Agreement and Mr. Bush pushed a Central America trade bill through Congress this summer, a pact on free trade throughout South America has stalled and is unlikely to move during this year’s summit.

The substance of the talks could take a back seat to the protests. As hundreds of demonstrators — mostly young — began pouring into the resort for today’s protests, police with riot shields redoubled security, erecting barricades and sealing off two sections of the city where leaders and reporters are staying.

Offshore, Navy ships patrolled as helicopters hovered over the luxury hotel where leaders will meet.

Mr. Bush is on a five-day trip throughout Latin America, making stops tomorrow in Brazil and Monday in Panama.

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