Despite a five-day trip to South and Central America, President
Bush was unable to work the same wonders on US-Latin American
relations that he did earlier this year on ties to Europe.
Indeed, this trip was unlike Mr. Bush's February journey across
the Atlantic, which was widely seen as successful in repairing
relations damaged by the US decision to invade Iraq. Instead, the
three-country trip that ends Monday has revealed more than anything
how distant and dissonant relations with much of the hemisphere - in
particular South America - have become.
"The sense one has after these few days that Bush spent in the
region is that Latin America is very, very far from Washington,"
says Felix Pena, a specialist in international economic relations in
Buenos Aires. "It's not good for anyone involved, but the events
don't seem to allow any other conclusion."
At last weekend's Summit of the Americas in this seaside city,
Bush did not get the green light he sought for a relaunching of
hemispheric trade negotiations. What came out of the unusually
obdurate talks - which nearly ended in failure - was more of a
A majority of countries signed on to language in a final summit
document that calls for reviving long-stalled negotiations for a
Free Trade Area of the Americas sometime next year. But five
countries - including summit host Argentina and regional giant
Brazil - insisted that conditions are not ripe to proceed toward the
As part of his trip, Bush had also sought to address US concerns
about signs of instability in the region, including in Bolivia. In
presidential elections there next month, voters could elect an
Indian rights activist who advocates legalization of coca growing
and nationalization of the natural-gas industry.
But with the free-trade topic dominating conversations, it was
unclear how much attention Bush was able to draw to Bolivia in
Argentina or Brazil, where Bush met with President Luis Inacio Lula
da Silva after the summit. Both countries have influential ties to
While at the Summit of the Americas, Bush was also unable to deny
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez a significant piece of the stage.
The self-described enemy of "American imperialism" used the platform
to amplify his socialist agenda and even warn of what he said are
"undeniable" US military plans to invade his country.
At the summit's end, which was hours beyond schedule because of
the difficulty in reaching a final communique, Mr. Chavez crowed
that Bush was "the great loser" of the event. The summit was no
triumph for Chavez, however, since he had vowed the meeting would be
the "tomb" of the free-trade area. Even Argentine officials, while
opposing a return to talks on the FTAA under current conditions,
acknowledged the project is "not dead" since more than two dozen of
the hemisphere's countries favor moving toward completion of the
But Chavez did manage to speak for two hours before an estimated
25,000 gathered at a "counter summit" Friday that focused on
fighting poverty and US-style capitalism. …