President Bush visited Guatemala on Monday, the fourth stop on his weeklong tour of Latin America. He awoke in Guatemala City, but quickly boarded his Marine helicopter to visit the countryside. There, he spoke about how U.S. aid is helping the impoverished nation.
President Bush has been arguing for several days that his government is reaching out to Latin America with money and support. But he has mostly been delivering that message in formal settings, standing next to another president.
He tried a different tack today. Bush left Guatemala City by helicopter, and landed in the small town of Santa Cruz Balanya, where he was greeted warmly. The town's 10,000 people are mostly indigenous. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 1976, and was rebuilt with help from the United States.
Bush did everything he could to send a message that the United States cares about Guatemala, a poor country with millions living in extreme poverty. He visited a school where U.S. military personnel offer medical care, and personally handed out hygiene kits.
In the Guatemalan countryside, he stopped at a vegetable-packing station and loaded a few crates of lettuce. The facility serves as a farming co-op, which helps local indigenous farmers find places to sell their goods; Wal-Mart is one of their major buyers. Mr. Bush said free-trade policies are helping Guatemala's farmers.
"Free trade is important for a lot of people. It's important for our country; it's a gateway," he said. "It creates jobs in America just like it creates jobs here. And so we thank you for your wonderful hospitality."
But there was a reality check: President Bush is not widely popular in Guatemala. And the citizens haven't forgotten the 36-year civil war, when the United States at times backed the repressive government.
Elsewhere in the country Monday, Guatemalans took to the streets, telling Mr. Bush to leave.
On his trip, the president has been unable to get Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez off his tail. The fiery leader keeps finding countries to visit that are near wherever Mr. Bush happens to be.
As Mr. Bush arrived in Guatemala, Chavez was revving up a crowd in Nicaragua, accusing the U.S. president of plotting assassinations in this part of the world.
"The American empire is the firefighter of the conflagration with their very well-known divisive anti-revolutionary policy, reactionary policy," Chavez said in Spanish, "and with their agents infiltrating among all those countries."
Chavez, whose nation is rich in petroleum money, announced a new deal to supply Nicaragua with cheap oil. His strategy seems simple: If Mr. Bush has come south to offer economic aid, Chavez is going to do everything he can to out-do him.