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Not much regard for Bush in his Latin America tour

COMMENTARY | March 19, 2007

The overseas press: Latin American editorial writers didn’t much care for Bush on his tour there, and there often wasn't any love lost for Chavez, either.

By John Burke

MADRID--Not surprisingly, George Bush’s recent tour to Latin America was met with protests and violence in every nation that he visited—and a slew of editorials from the region’s newspapers.

Opinions varied in the daily pages of the five countries Bush visited (Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico). Some were keen to note that Bush chose countries relatively friendly with the American government and steered away from those with overtly negative opinions of the “Empire”. Others emphasized that assurances to the region had been made before, only to slip through the foreign policy cracks of 9/11.

But for most, the specter of Venezuelan president and militant anti-American, Hugo Chavez, hung heavily over the 6-day tour. Simultaneously conducting visits of his own in the region, the leftist Bush-basher continued attempting to drum up support for himself.

In reality, it appears that even Mr. Chavez is not particularly well-viewed south of the Rio Grande; last year’s Latinobarometer showed that he and Mr. Bush share equally low ratings among Latin Americans. Perhaps realizing this, Bush didn’t publicly mention his administration’s distaste for the man it is accused of trying to overthrow in a 2002 coup. But for many editorialists, it was evident that the presence and promises of the gringo executive were meant to counter Chavez: 


In the days before Bush’s arrival, one columnist at O Globo wrote that “Brazil should negotiate with the United States without ‘anti-American’ preconceptions” and criticized his own country for the feeling of “subservience” in relation to the US:

With George W. Bush arriving in Brazil on Wednesday (Mar. 8), two questions must be answered. If it's true that a Brazilian subservience to the United States exists, or existed, what is or was the magnitude of this subservience? Secondly, what is the magnitude of anti-Americanism in Brazil?

One of the reasons for President Lula's electoral success is the fact that he so well represents so-called common sense of Brazilians - and a significant part of that common sense is the idea that the Americans, in one way or another, always end up damaging our manifest destiny to be a great power. Or they conspire in such a way that our plans cannot be carried out. Or they are directly culpable for our political and social misfortunes.

This is as great a foolishness as the idea of subservience. It's important here to separate two areas: Criticism of the American government's policies and the way we Brazilians look at the United States; and the way Bush led the United States into war, which is universally criticized - including very bitterly within the United States.

The ignorance of the average American (that statistical fiction) - about the world in general and Brazil in particular - is proverbial. But the same cannot be said of the academic world: generations of American scholars have studied Brazil in a way that we Brazilians are only now beginning to do in a broad, organized way in regard to the United States, except for a few brilliant individual contributions. In some Brazilian academic circles, studying the United States is regarded as a waste of time and capitalism is condemned in the hope that it will disappear.

From a political point of view, over the last few years we have been preoccupied with compiling a list of priorities for the United States to follow. Perhaps it's been our own fault: Whether or not we like or want the vision of the world that Americans project and pursue, they are not going to waste time on things that they don't consider important.

Perhaps what would facilitate our relationship with President Bush, his successor and the successor of his successor, are two conclusions that are obvious enough. That the subservience which Lula referred to is a political trick used to reiterate something that he didn't invent; and that being "anti-American" is as stupid as being "anti-Anglo" or "anti-Japanese" or "anti-whatever."

We are big, important and hard-working enough to deal with the United States without these kinds of prejudice. This is only a symbol of our backwardness.


In “It’s all symbolic,” Uruguay’s El Pais (in Spanish) welcomes Bush, recognizing the position of the American executive as a symbol always more powerful than the person who holds the office. It also takes a not-so-subtle shot at Chavez, referring to power-mongers and term limits (it is thought that Chavez will push a law through the Venezuelan government that will allow him to remain President for more than the allotted two terms).

“(The visit from the President of the United States) is an event for Uruguay, a country that doesn’t receive leaders of this caliber every day. Obviously the image of the President is not exactly favorable in today’s world because of his foreign policy, especially the major error of military intervention in Baghdad…

“But the Presidency of the United States as an organ transcends that of its holder…

“In the United States, a President who concentrates the sum of power can lose his influence and even be condemned for having tarnished the image of a system whose functions never fail. The shadow of Richard Nixon proves this. In the United states, a president can be reelected for another term, but when this is over, so are his/her aspirations to return to power, and the possibility of expanding his or her mandate can not even be considered in the face of opportunistic reforms. In one word, in the United States, institutions are immaculate, they are in the feelings of its citizens, in the roots of its history, and supreme to the vanity of men.”

Another editorial in El Pais entitled Paradoxes welcomes Bush and sees his visit as important in opening Uruguay to a world of opportunity, while once again taking a stab at Chavez:

“As the working classes and the leftist natives manifested against the presence of the President of the United States, the (Uruguayan) government was trying to establish trade agreements that would generate ore employment and better the standard of living for those same Uruguayan workers. What a strange paradox! … (Uruguay) can’t compete with cheap labor from China. On the other hand, the quality of Uruguayan primary resources and labor will surely permit us to enter into the North American market with more strength…

“We don’t need those fiery speeches funded with petrodollars nor the paternalistic gifts from our neighbors. What Uruguay does need to continue growth is opportunities and access to international markets without obstacles and in a multilateral sense. The visit of the North American president is an important step in this direction.”

Uruguay’s La Republica looks at the United States as a dominating imperial power, politically and economically. It recognizes the necessity to talk with Bush in order to make advancements towards improving the Uruguayan economy but at the same time doesn’t think that the Uruguayan economy matters much to Bush:

“It isn’t our intention to reiterate opinions already voiced on this page concerning Bush’s visit, but we must insist that because Mr. Bush represents a huge emblematic figure of imperialism, the Uruguayan government couldn’t assume another attitude than that which it has assumed: to receive with courtesy the foreign official. There wasn’t another manner in which to receive him, or our country would have embarked down a dangerous path of confrontation with the empire that could easily deteriorate relations between both nations, a possibility with negative consequences for the interests of Uruguay…

Before Bush’s visit, our country didn’t hesitate to celebrate his failures, not only his bellicose foreign policies which have greatly harmed his administration, but also the imperialism that the country to the north has shown for more than 100 years as well as its voracious and unsupportive political economy. But at the same time, with realism and maturity, our country has welcomed the foreign official at a time when we need to expand our markets is becoming imperious.

“Without a doubt, for the Uruguayan government, Bush’s visit represents a headache…

“There is no doubt that the imperial strategy is to stick a wedge into Mercosur, trying to deepen the fissures that are manifesting in the block. Evidently, for the United States, Uruguay doesn’t represent an appetizing economic objective because of the weakening of its markets. Therefore, Bush’s visit reflects more than anything political and diplomatic.”


In the days before “The visit of Emperor Bush” to Colombia, his biggest ally in Latin America, the daily El Universal (in Spanish) wrote that American influence on Colombia has severely impeded the country’s sovereignty:

“Next Sunday the American Emperor George Bush will pay a visit to one of his most appreciated colonies, Colombia, where its governor, Alvaro Uribe, must inform him about the political and economic situation, especially the health of American multinational companies.

“Undoubtedly in past years, especially since the mandate of Ernesto Samper (1994-1998), the imperial domination of the US has increased upon our nation. Everyday, its ‘Vice-Kings’ (loose translation of “virreyes”, a powerful position appointed by the King of Spain during colonization. There were two or three ‘virreyes’ in Latin America at any one time, each controlling large portions of the continent), in the form of ambassadors, intervene more in our national affairs; visits from the highest functionaries are permanent and the presence of American military forces is increasing in the same manner that American multinationals penetrate our national economy more every day, further empowering their vital arteries.    

“Today the frame of re-colonization is complete; the country is prostrated in the face of imperial designs and our presidents become every day more like pawns than governors of an autonomous and independent nation…”

“The visit of ‘Mister Tangiers’ (supposedly a derogatory comment relating to past empires) in Columbia in these circumstances is an affront against the dignity of the Colombian population. It is possible that there has not been a president more repudiated than Mr. Bush in the past 100 years…

“In this sad episode (referring to the Iraq war) in history, Colombia, with it president Uribe, was the only South American country to back the installation of barbarism with the ensuing destruction of Iraq…

“(In the case of Colombia as the territory where the United States is training Afghan police to fight terrorism), Colombia is not only obeying the orders of the Empire, but also achieving a denigrating international role, which is that we serve as a link to the United States so that it can massacre and invade other countries.

 “Bush’s visit should serve as a time of reflection for Colombians on something that anti-national elites have always tried to hide or maintain as important; whether or not as a nation Colombia has the right to independence or not, or to be sovereign or not, to decide our proper destiny or not…

“Mister Bush, go home!”

A columnist for Colombia’s El Tiempo (in Spanish) tells how he would have conducted the visit “If I were Bush … Or at Least Uribe”, suggesting that nothing was accomplished during the American president’s brief visit:

“I have yet to learn which questions, besides those already mentioned, the Colombian President posed to (Bush). A long list of unsettling subjects come to mind that, if I were President of Colombia, I would have mentioned to our visitor.

“For example, since Colombia is the only South American nation that supported the illegal war in Iraq, I would have asked for explanations about the torture, violation of human rights and incomparable violence that have resulted from this invasion. Bush put in his two cents regarding our legal proceedings in the paramilitary scandal. Very well. In return, did Uribe criticize the Guantanamo concentration camp or the secret transfer of prisoners to countries that permit torture?

“If I were Uribe, I would have asked the U.S. President how he will stop the destruction of the environment that is promoted by, among others, North American businesses. I would have said to him that carbon dioxide is the primary cause of the increase in temperatures now melting out icecaps, and I would have reminded him that in 2004 the U.S. emitted over 7,000,000,000 tons of this gas, a figure greater than the seven next most highly polluting countries. I would have asked him to sign the Kyoto Treaty as a condition for our approval of the Free Trade Agreement.

“On the subject of drugs, if I were President of Colombia, I would have solicited my colleague to submit data regarding the seizure of weapons and chemical products destined for clandestine export to Colombia. It's fair for Bush to inquire into what we are doing to combat drug traffickers. However, it would also be interesting to know what he does on his end to impede the export of substances from the U.S. used to manufacture cocaine, as well as weapons used to attack our soldiers, police, judges, politicians, and reporters. Regarding these same issues, I would have inquired into how many drug traffickers the U.S. captured last year, because we failed to hear of any in Colombia.

On the topic of the Free Trade Agreement, I would have so many questions for Mr. Bush that for him to have ample time to respond, would have required him to take a summer vacation…

“Why does the Free Trade Agreement oblige Colombia to concede to the U.S. treaties that it grants to other countries, yet the United States is not compelled to return the favor?

“Why does the U.S. require us to sign or ratify ten international treaties on the subject of property rights as a “test of our love” before signing the Free Trade Agreement, while Colombia cannot demand that Washington accept treaties it refuses regarding environmental protection or those enacted by international tribunals?

“Why, if this is a reciprocal treaty, must Colombia, on average, reduce its tariffs four times more than the United States?

Why does the U.S. continue to fund certain exports that destroy our fields?

“Doesn't the U.S. consider it bad faith to patent ancient indigenous remedies?

“Why does the United States speak of negotiation when their delegate warns that, ‘We will make an agreement, but we will decide upon its conditions?’

 “Finally, as our visit came to an end, I would have asked Mr. Bush for his e-mail address so that I could further question him about everything that remained unanswered, for fooling around and for looking at local handicrafts.”


In “Bush’s compassion”, the Guatemalan daily El Periodico (in Spanish) chides the American president for continuing to make it seem as if the United States truly feels for a region mostly ignored during his mandate while showing how Chavez has gained influence by giving and promising more money:   

“Bush’s repeated assertion during his Latin American tour that the United States feels compassion towards the region was an empty expression in a mistaken moment: in various countries it was taken as a pejorative term, that, furthermore, wasn’t supported with any promise of significant financial aid.

“According to my counts, Bush said at least 15 times during the tour’s press conferences that the United States is a “compassionate” country. This sounded somewhat strange for many in the region, not only because Bush has virtually forgotten about Latin America since the 2001 terrorists attacks and the wall he supports erecting on the Mexican/American border, but also because at the same time the PetroPopulist president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez was making promises left and right to donate much more money than the North American president…

“The problem is that Bush repeated this line over and over in a region that views the American government as selfish and stingy.

The Brazilian editorialist Clovis Rossi wrote in the Folha de Sao Paulo that ‘Latin America wants commerce and investment much more than compassion…’

Although the US is by far the biggest donor in the world in quantity of dollars… it is the country least generous in relation so the size of its economy among the world’s most developed countries (according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development)…

An editorial in the Brazilian O Estado de Sao Paulo qualifies Bush’s promises as ‘ridiculous package’ It added that American foreign aid to Latin America is equivalent to that which the US spends in Iraq in five days, a ‘drop of water’ compared to what Chavez is giving, or at least promising to the region…

Bush was correct to ignore Chavez and show a renewed interest in Latin America. But instead of accentuating a weak point of US foreign policy, he should have spoken of ‘solidarity’ or ‘shared interests’ with the region – anything except ‘compassion’.”


After 9/11, Mexico’s El Universal understands the dramatic turn in Bush’s promise to regard Latin America as a “fundamental” part of his foreign policy, but realizes that in the meantime this has allowed leftists like Chavez to rise:

“It's impossible to know whether Latin America would have been the object of more diplomatic attention from the ‘Giant of the North’ if September 11th had never occurred.  But it's clear that in the governing platform of this neoconservative Republican Administration, most of any such attention would have been focused on exporting their crusade in favor of individual freedom, religious fundamentalism, the free market, and the export of these values to the ‘back porch.’  The political changes that have occurred in the region over recent years, with the ascent of center-left governments and the anti-imperialist populism of Hugo Chavez, has ruined the idyllic assumption that conservatism had been firmly established in the Western hemisphere.

“This perception explains why, with less than two years before the tenure ends for a President that has reached historic levels of unpopularity, the government of the United States decided that the tour was necessary. Beyond giving Bush some good publicity, Washington is looking to launch diplomatic initiatives to counter the growing influence of Chavez and the loss of confidence in the United States on the part of Latin American elites.

“When Danilo Arbilla mused in the pages of El Universal on March 10 by writing, ‘What were the credentials that Bush could show us, in his capacity as Chief of State - The Iraq War?  The violations of human rights within the context of that war, or the violations of the basic rights of his own American people? - he put his finger directly on the wound, not so much in moral terms, but in terms of ‘realpolitik.’

“With the succession of political errors made by the current American government - including, from the standpoint of its own security, the unjustifiable invasion of Iraq - it would have been almost impossible for that same government to harvest any benefit from a visit that was seen as a crude attempt to contain the influence of Chavismo.

“And nevertheless, the preliminary conclusion that one extracts from Bush's trip is that he obtained a very favorable reaction from (Brazil's President) Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva and Uruguay's leader, Tabare Vazquez, inasmuch as these two clearly kept their respective  distances from the anti-American proposals of Hugo Chavez, even while avoiding criticizing their friend and neighbor, the Venezuelan President. Both leaders were criticized by the local Brazilian and Uruguayan press for not confronting Bush while they were in a position of greater leverage, rather than going along with him…

“And so in closing this article, let me quote the revealing words of PAN Senator Creel, who said that to build good bilateral relations, one would have to await the arrival of a new President of the United States.”

A writer for the left-leaning Mexican daily, La Jornada, (in Spanish) has some harsh words for Bush and the policies proposed during his visit, while simultaneously reveling in his view that “Bush has been thrashed by Chavez:”

“A few hours after the butcher of Iraq completed his tour of the Latin American countries, it is evident - if anybody had doubted it - that the trip had nothing to do with pushing for social justice or minimizing the isolation and poverty of the region, as he had assured us before going. The bearer of ‘evil spirits,’ as the Mayan priests of Guatemala put it, has said or done nothing over recent days that would suggest any change in the historical conduct of the United States in its relations toward the countries south of the Rio Bravo, which usually includes plundering, submission and ecological destruction.

“Very much to the contrary, we were treated to delirious promises about that famous comprehensive migration reform - which, if achieved, would owe its existence to the long battle of Hispanics and their allies within the Northern colossus, rather than to the magnanimity of Washington - and not a shred of recognition of the infamy of the border wall. Also, there were repeated mentions of the common fight against drug trafficking and organized crime, when both of these are the intrinsic side effects of the ever-more pronounced speculation of a mafia-like capitalism, while their essential cause lies in the Empire's enormous demand for narcotics, the financial system of which, by laundering money, is the drug-trafficker's greatest beneficiary.

“And of course, we were treated to the refrain that free trade is the only way to achieve ‘prosperity.’ That is to say, more gasoline will be thrown onto the social fires of Latin America.

“As was to be expected, the insincere promotion of ethanol production as way to generate jobs and remedy global warming has not been accompanied by a reduction in the massive taxes on Brazilian energy. If the project were to be put into practice on the scale that Bush proposes, it would mean a death certificate for the tropical forests of Brazil, the devastation of rural agriculture in Brazil as well as vast regions of Central America and the Caribbean, the deepening of monoculture and the liquidation of biodiversity on hundreds of thousands of hectares…

“This strategy, destined to fatten a handful of transnational corporations, maintain the environmentally lethal and wasteful energy consumption in the United States and sabotage Latin American integration, is already being met with considerable social rejection…

“People were moved to outbursts of laughter at Bush's granting of scholarships and a visit by a hospital ship - monuments to stinginess when compared to the millions of Latin American and Caribbean beneficiaries of Cuban-Venezuelan health and education programs. This was all a metaphor for the repudiation shown to Bush and the general warm welcome for Hugo Chávez in his parallel tour, crowned by an enthusiastic reception in Haiti.

“Just as the emperor made ethanol his main course on the South American portion of his tour, it is more likely that what motivated him in Mexico was his voracity toward its petroleum reserves and an eagerness to strengthen the Alliance for the Security and Prosperity of North America - an instrument with which the North seeks to swallow - this time in total - its southern neighbor…

“From a vigorous rejection in Latin America, Bush returns without pause to the whirlwind of scandals, investigations into his government and the almost unanimous disapproval that await him at home. One reaps what one sows.”

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