- The Washington Times - Monday, November 7, 2005


Without naming names but leaving little doubt whom he had in mind, President Bush torqued up his rhetoric this week against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a leftist whom Mr. Bush sees as a destabilizing force in a region of young democracies.

Mr. Bush had held his tongue during the two-day Summit of the Americas that ended Saturday in Argentina and featured a massive anti-U.S. rally highlighted by a two-hour tirade by Mr. Chavez, an ally of Cuban leader Fidel Castro in opposing the United States.

But in his Sunday speech to college students, business leaders and the local diplomatic corps, Mr. Bush said, “Ensuring social justice for the Americas requires choosing between two competing visions.

“One offers a vision of hope. It is founded on representative government, integration into the world community and a faith in the transformative power of freedom in individual lives,” the U.S. president said in his address during a one-day stop that included a visit with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

The other vision, Mr. Bush said, “seeks to roll back the democratic progress of the past two decades by playing to fear, pitting neighbor against neighbor and blaming others for their own failures to provide for their people.”

To date, the Bush administration’s anti-Chavez rhetoric has been low-key, pointing out that high energy prices have done little to boost the economy of oil-rich Venezuela.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Chavez had no encounters at the two-day summit, and the U.S. president’s only public comment about his Venezuelan counterpart was a promise to be polite if they met.

Mr. Bush remained polite Sunday by not naming Mr. Chavez in the speech. A senior administration official, who briefed reporters before Mr. Bush’s speech, said on the condition of anonymity that the tactic was chosen because the president did not want to “elevate anyone” by naming names. The official also indicated that the comments also applied to Mr. Castro, who was not invited to the summit.

“Only a generation ago, this was a continent plagued by military dictatorship and civil war,” Mr. Bush said.

In his speech, he also pushed for progress on the stalled Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) agreement. Summit members could not agree on a date to resume the talks. Brazil, siding with Venezuela, was among five countries that want FTAA put on the back burner until worldwide trade talks resume. Mr. Bush wants those talks completed by the end of next year.

“We encourage Brazil to use its leadership to help make this vision for the Americas a reality,” Mr. Bush said of free trade.

He noted Mr. Lula da Silva’s complaint that U.S. farm subsidies create an unlevel playing field for international free trade.

“The United States is leading the way in addressing this problem,” Mr. Bush said.

Earlier Sunday, the two men met privately for about 90 minutes before making statements in which they acknowledged their differences but vowed to work together.

“We agree that the reduction, with a view to the elimination, of agricultural subsidies will be a key to balance” during upcoming worldwide trade talks, Mr. Lula da Silva said.

Mr. Bush said the Brazilian president had made it clear to him that all further trade talks could be stalled “as long as there are countries that refuse to yield on agricultural matters.”

“And I heard that loud and clear,” Mr. Bush said, repeating his call for reduced U.S. farm subsidies, “so long as we get the same treatment from trading partners such as Europe.”

Mr. Bush’s trip to Latin America, which ended yesterday with a stop in Panama, was aimed at jump-starting relations between the United States and a region that feels it has been ignored in the post-September 11 world.

The region’s view of the United States was summed up by Carlos Pio, a professor of international relations at the University of Brasilia, in a question to Mr. Bush during a meeting with young Brazilian leaders.

“Latin Americans for a long time have had a love-hatred relationship with the U.S.,” Mr. Pio told the president. “Latin Americans admire the military and economic power of the United States, its popular culture and many values which they share. But Latin Americans resist the somewhat missionary nature of [the] U.S. when justifying its international actions.”

Mr. Pio, noting the demonstrations against the United States during the Summit of the Americas, asked Mr. Bush to “pinpoint the causes” for the resistance toward the United States.

“I expect there to be dissent,” Mr. Bush said, adding that “what happened in Argentina happens in America. That’s positive.”

Mr. Bush said the worldview of America often is “not an accurate view.” He offered a truncated version of his stump speech on democracy and said he hopes he is able to promote that policy “in a way that explains our position, as opposed to alienating people.”

The day’s events featured two leaders facing problems at home. Mr. Bush is dogged by the ongoing investigation of the White House leak of a CIA operative’s name. It is a probe that has led to the indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff and contributed to Mr. Bush’s declining popularity as reflected in public opinion polls.

In Brazil, Mr. Lula da Silva’s approval rating dropped to 45 percent in September from 55 percent in June as the government endured a bribery scandal.

“Confidence in the administration rebounded as the economy improved, but recent corruption scandals are taking a toll, and current polling indicates he might not win re-election next year,” the U.S. Embassy wrote in a review of the local political landscape.

Mr. Lula da Silva has failed to curb the nation’s crime problem. Last month, 64 percent of Brazilians voted down a proposed ban on the sale of weapons and ammunition. Many said they no longer trust the government to protect them from crime, the U.S. Embassy summary said.

• Distributed by the New York Times News Service

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