Oct 29, 2005
Groups to Rally Against Bush in Argentina
By ALAN CLENDENNING
Associated Press Writer
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Long gone are the days of heavily armed revolutionaries wandering the jungles of Nicaragua or Bolivia and the cry of "Yankee Go Home!" on the streets of Latin America.
Since the end of the Cold War, military dictatorships have vanished and the region for the most part has embraced capitalism and American-style democracy. But that doesn’t mean it’s entirely at peace with "El Norte," its powerful northern neighbor.
When President Bush arrives this week at the Argentine seaside resort of Mar del Plata for the fourth Summit of the Americas, leftist activists, students, Indians and trade unionists will gather at a basketball stadium several miles away to protest everything from the war in Iraq to U.S. immigration policy to free trade deals.
"We think his policies are totally contrary to what we want for Latin America and are promoting genocide, domination of workers and their communities and the plundering of natural resources," said Argentine labor leader Juan Gonzalez, who is heading a protest "People’s Summit" coinciding with Bush’s visit Thursday through Saturday.
It’s nothing Bush hasn’t run into on his travels in Europe. But in play here is a long and complex history, rife with nationalist impulses, in which the United States is viewed as an economic magnet, valued as a donor of aid totaling nearly $1 billion a year, but detested as "imperialist." The latter sentiment has been exacerbated by the war in Iraq.
Most Latin American governments opposed the war, and only Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic overrode their own protesting publics to send troops or police to Iraq. The 380 Salvadorans are the only ones still there.
Many Latin Americans who once complained that Washington was propping up their dictators now contend it is trying to spread its brand of democracy by force.
But the war on terrorism hits particularly close to home south of the Rio Grande because of tighter border and visa controls. Poor Latin Americans have been waiting for years for a promised guest worker program to get them into the United States, and better-off students increasingly are turning to schools and colleges in Canada, Britain and Australia.
To many Latin Americans, "the war smacks of U.S. imperialism and bullying and is extraordinarily unpopular," said Riordan Roett, director of the Western Hemisphere program at Johns Hopkins University. "America is seen as an arrogant, run-amok republic that does things without thinking them through."
A July poll by a respected Latin American think tank surveyed Argentines, Brazilians, Chileans and Uruguayans in their capitals and found strong negative opinion of Bush, the war on terrorism and American "imperialist" power.
"The main opinion that came out is the U.S. is very aggressive in terms of foreign policy and the Bush reputation is very low in the four countries," said Claudio Fuentes, a political scientist with the Latin American Faculty of Social Science in Santiago, Chile, which conducted the poll. "More than 70 percent perceive the U.S. is not promoting peace and Bush is going against what the U.S. is actually promoting as its main goals."
The telephone poll of 2,362 people in Buenos Aires, Brasilia, Santiago and Montevideo is not a representative sample because it wasn’t done on a nationwide basis. It gave a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Antagonism toward Bush was highest in Buenos Aires, with 64 percent saying they have a poor or very poor opinion of the president. It was 63 percent in Montevideo, 47 percent in Brasilia and 40 percent in Santiago. Those rating Bush good or very good came to 8 percent in Montevideo, 11 percent in Buenos Aires, 17 percent in Brasilia and 19 percent in Santiago. The rest professed not to know or not to care.
Though there is no comparable pre-9/11 poll, Fuentes and other experts say the results suggest a reversal of public opinion.
When Bush took office, some Latin Americans welcomed the former Texas governor as a politician familiar with the state’s huge immigrant population and problems south of its border. They cheered when he chose Mexico for his first trip abroad as president, and when he proposed an initiative to ease illegal migration with a guest-worker program.
But the idea dropped off the radar screen after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Bush has started a new push in Congress to get it passed. He has also tried, with little success, to revive President Clinton’s goal of a Free Trade Area of the Americas that would include all 34 continental and Caribbean countries participating in this week’s summit.
It would create the world’s largest free trade zone, stretching from Alaska to Argentina. But Latin Americans want deep cuts in U.S. farm subsidies before they agree to American demands for greater market access and stronger action against pirated Hollywood CDs and DVDs sold on Latin American streets.
Another free-market deal, the Central American Free Trade Agreement, has fared better. Bush got it through Congress, but opposition was stiff enough to raise concerns for the overall fate of open markets.
"You can say CAFTA went through, but what it revealed is that free trade is on life support," said Michael Shifter, vice president for policy at the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington, D.C. "It barely squeezed through Congress and doesn’t bode well for future deals."
Reformers must also contend with a deep-seated Latin American suspicion of free-market revolutions. The economic pain they have inflicted on countries like Argentina helps explain a string of left-wing election victories across the continent in recent years.
The reforms that proved so unpopular are widely ascribed to the influence of U.S. free-market ideologues. Opponents brand the moves as "neoliberalism," or perceived enslavement of Latin Americans via American control of globalization through free-market economics, liberal trade and the breakdown of national borders.
The United States continues pouring aid money into Latin America and the Caribbean. It gave $894 million last year and will spend $983 million this year for programs to fund education, feed children, promote democracy and fight drug trafficking.
A quarter of that money goes toward the drug war, but with mixed results. Some countries say it’s not enough, and many Latin Americans believe the problem wouldn’t exist if America wasn’t a market for drugs. Colombians complain that despite their efforts to combat cocaine production, they have all ended up stereotyped as drug dealers.
And experts wonder how Washington will deal with Bolivia if presidential front-runner Evo Morales wins the Dec. 4 election and follows through on pledges to decriminalize coca growing and industrialize production. Morales himself farms the coca leaves from which tea - and cocaine - is made.
Bush’s most vocal critic at the summit will likely be Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a Fidel Castro supporter who accuses the Bush administration of seeking to overthrow him and his socialist program financed by Venezuelan oil exports.
But other leaders have plenty of their own issues to gripe about. These include the deportation of immigrants convicted of crimes in America who go home only to commit more crimes, the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, and Washington’s rejection of the newborn International Criminal Court.
Ninety countries have ratified the court’s authority, but not the United States, which fears politically motivated war crimes prosecutions of American soldiers. Ecuador last year forfeited $15.7 million in aid, much of it for military equipment, for refusing to sign a pact granting U.S. military personnel special immunity from the court.
Chile’s Fuentes says it may take years of active U.S. engagement in Latin American issues to repair the relationship. For now, Bush is getting points simply for promising to show up at Mar del Plata.
"The fact that he is going is a credit to him, because there was a lot of speculation he wouldn’t," Shifter said. "He’s going to get a cordial reception from the Latin American leaders, but there won’t be a lot of abrazos and saludos" - hearty hugs and greetings.