'Imperialist' U.S. at the Summit for the Americas

President Bush travels Thursday to the Argentine city of Mar del Plata for the fourth Summit of the Americas. In the region, the U.S. is widely valued for sending aid totaling nearly $1 billion a year. But many also detest the U.S. government for being "imperialist" — Brian Byrnes reports on that tension, and offers a preview of the summit.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And as Don just mentioned, a trip abroad is sometimes a welcome respite for President Bush during times of turmoil at home, but the president's trip to Latin America is not likely to give him much rest or relaxation. Brian Byrnes reports from Buenos Aires.

Unidentified Woman: (Spanish spoken)

BRIAN BYRNES reporting:

Standing just four feet away from a burning effigy of US President George W. Bush, 30-year-old Argentine Maria Fernandez(ph) doesn't hesitate for a second in calling Bush a terrorist.

Ms. MARIA FERNANDEZ: (Spanish spoken)

BYRNES: She adds that Bush is not welcome in her country. Fernandez and several hundred others gathered Friday in front of the US Embassy in Buenos Aires, where they painted the surrounding streets with American flags emblazoned with swastikas.

Group of People: (Singing in Spanish)

BYRNES: These loud and often violent protests have become the norm when US officials visit the region, especially here in Argentina. A July poll showed that 64 percent of Argentines had a negative opinion of Bush. That, compounded with the overwhelming regional opposition to the war in Iraq, and you have what may prove to be a difficult two days of talks for the US delegation in Mar del Plata.

Professor IGNACIO LABAKIE(ph) (Catholic University of Argentina): Perhaps it would be a good opportunity for the Bush administration to show to the region--to the leaders of the region that he has not forgotten about Latin America.

BYRNES: Ignacio Labakie is a professor of Latin American politics at the Catholic University of Argentina. He says this summit is unlikely to produce any concrete results, especially over the US-proposed FTAA, the Free Trade Area of the Americas. The talks have been stalled over a number of issues, with US farm subsidies being of great concern to Latin American agricultural giants like Argentina and Brazil.

Prof. LABAKIE: And the FTAA is going to be absent in the summit because for the last two years neither the US nor Brazil ...(unintelligible) have placed great emphasis on the FTAA because they cannot solve their difference in this negotiating process.

BYRNES: Argentina's deputy foreign minister, Jorge Taiana, acknowledges that FTAA negotiations are at an impasse, but remains confident that the leaders can produce a final summit statement that addresses two pressing regional themes, poverty and unemployment.

Mr. JORGE TAIANA (Deputy Foreign Minister, Argentina): In the political preparation, well, we still have an agenda for discussion of the final draft of the documents and we preparing to have four days of vacation, but I'm sure that we will find a good consensus and we have a good document for the president.

BYRNES: Perhaps most pressing to the Bush administration is the political shift to the left in much of Latin America. This shift is being led by outspoken Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, whose petrodollars have been wooing other Latin American leaders such as Argentina's Nestor Kirchner and Brazil's Luis Inacio "Lula" da Silva. In addition to his presidential duties at the official summit, Chavez will also address the participants of the Summit of the People, the alternative summit that is already under way just outside Mar del Plata. Juan Gonzalez is one of the organizers.

Mr. JUAN GONZALEZ (Organizer, Summit of the People): (Spanish spoken)

BYRNES: `Bush personifies the politics that we are opposed to,' Gonzalez says. `The Summit of the People says no to the Free Trade Area of the Americas, no to external debt, no to the war in Iraq and no to poverty.'

Mr. GONZALEZ: (Spanish spoken)

BYRNES: Nine thousand security personnel are mounting the largest security operation in Argentina's history. Friday's massive march will keep them on their toes, drawing union leaders, anti-globalization activists and human rights groups. High-profile marchers will also be there, like Argentine Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel and even Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona. Maradona made the promise to attend the anti-Bush march during a TV interview last week with the one American leader who was not invited to the summit, Cuban President Fidel Castro. For NPR News, I'm Brian Byrnes in Buenos Aires.

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