President Bush meets with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Sao Paolo, where the two leaders promoted a new partnership to push for more production of ethanol. But they also acknowledged they've hit some rough spots in talks over trade.
Free trade initiatives are increasingly unpopular throughout Latin America. And so far, President Bush's reception in the region has been cool.
As President Bush flew into Sao Paulo, South America's largest city, about 6,000 protesters took to the streets to make clear they weren't excited about this visit.
And that was only the beginning for Mr. Bush. His political nemesis in the region, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, is leading anti-American rally in a soccer stadium in Argentina tonight. Chavez told reporters the event would be confrontational.
And he had this to say to the U.S. president: "Ho, Ho!" Chavez shouted, "Gringo, Go Home!"
Mr. Bush hopes to reduce Chavez's influence in South America. That's one reason Mr. Bush is courting President Lula of Brazil, who is himself in a difficult position these days.
A leftist, Lula's own Workers Party opposed Mr. Bush's visit. But Lula wants to make Brazil into the economic powerhouse of South America, and he has tried to pursue a more competitive, pro-trade agenda.
Addressing reporters, Mr. Bush said he understands Lula's tough spot.
"I share your concerns about the people in a democracy not receiving the benefits of a democracy," the president said. "I think you're very wise to recognize that democracy is only as strong as the people feel society benefits them."
Mr. Bush refused to mention Hugo Chavez by name in public. But he insisted that the United States is increasing its aid to Latin America, funding programs to improve education and fight poverty.
"I don't think America gets enough credit for trying to help improve peoples lives," Mr. Bush said.
Many of the president's critics, here and in Washington, say the Bush administration has all but abandoned Latin America and doesn't deserve any credit. And if Lula is one of Mr. Bush's closest political allies in the region, even these two leaders have their problems.
They tried today to highlight a new partnership to promote the alternative fuel, ethanol. But here's the problem: The United States, hoping to protect corn farmers who produce ethanol, has slapped a tariff on the Brazilian variety, which is produced from sugar. President Lula wants the tariff lifted.
President Bush is in Latin America on a week-long, five nation tour. From Brazil, he heads to Uruguay, then to Columbia, where leftist rebels have been threatening to disrupt the visit.
In Guatemala, Mayan priests are reportedly so upset that Mr. Bush is coming that they plan, once he leaves, to cleanse an archaeological site Mr. Bush visits. They say they fear the president will leave behind bad spirits.