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Bush’s Latin American Slip

by STEPHEN FLEICHSMAN

Bush put the bear-hug on Brazil’s president, Lula da Silva, on the first leg of his vaunted South American trip. That picture, featured in the media, must have sent shivers up the spine of most Latinos.

The five nation tour of Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico, aims to improve the image of the colossus of the north but it may be having the opposite effect.

“I don’t think America gets enough credit for trying to help improve people’s lives” Mr. Bush said at a press conference in Sao Paulo.

Brazilians must feel otherwise. Protesters were out in force throughout the region, calling for the “gringo” to go home as well as calling Bush everything from a murderer, a fascist and a hypocrite. They also called him a warmonger and planet polluter. Polls show widespread opposition to the Iraq war and U.S. trade and immigration policies.

In Guatemala, anticipating Bush’s arrival, a group of Mayan priests said they would “purify” a sacred site of “bad spirits” after Bush’s scheduled visit.

While Bush was speechifying in Brazil, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Bush’s nemesis, was holding a rally in Buenos Aires, Argentina, across the river from Montevideo, Uruguay, Bush’s next port of call. He was condemning the ethanol plan that Bush and the Brazilian leader had devised for biofuels, accusing the United States of trying to “substitute the production of foodstuffs for animals and human beings with the production of foodstuffs for vehicles, to sustain the American way of life.”

When in Colombia, Bush should make a side trip down to Putumayo and visit some coca plantations, the source of a lot of the cocaine that hits the streets of America. He might get a glimpse of the devastation caused by the spraying of Monsanto’s Roundup plus-an herbicide, used against the coca crop (and every other plant it touches) as well as the campesinos, the peasants, living in the area. This offensive program has been supported by a whopping three billion of US tax dollars, in the last five years, funneled through the so-called “Plan Colombia”, your bucks and mine marching off to the “war on drugs”-eighty percent of which was diverted and used to fight the FARC.

While in Colombia, President Bush might do well to visit with the FARC — Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army-the leading guerrilla group in the country. Bush could even propose a summit meeting with Manuel Marulanda Veloz, leader of the FARC, since one day, perhaps in the not too distant future, the FARC might take over the country. That’s been known to happen throughout history. (One day guerrilla, next day head of state, [sic] George Washington, Nelson Mandela, Menachem Begin)

Marulanda, also known as Tirofijo (Sureshot) might be willing to meet with the President even though in March of 2006, Albert Gonzalez, the Attorney General of the United States, announced, in conjunction with the DEA and Department of Justice officials, that the State Department had placed a five million dollar reward on Tirofijo’s head, or information leading to his capture.

It is obvious that Bush avoided the one country he should have rated most important to include in a South American tour-Venezuela.

Venezuela provides the United States with one-sixth of its oil imports. It is also a country with enormous oil reserves-about 350 billion barrels if all the heavy and light crude are counted. A US Energy Department expert believes Venezuela holds 90% of the world’s super-heavy tar oil reserves-an estimated total of 1.36 trillion barrels from which light oil can be extracted, at a higher but viable cost.

Sounds likeVenezuela is a country with whom we should be friendlier, considering it could be the most important source of our future oil supply. But instead of taking that approach, the Bush Administration has made several attempts, some of them not so covert, to get rid of Chavez. No luck so far. Obviously, Bush will try again.

There is an old saying, “If you can’t lick’em, join’em”. But that may not be the way Bush sees it. From previous experience, it wouldn’t be a stretch to figure that the US would go all out to get its hands on that oil-by war, if necessary, as it tried to do in Iraq. It undoubtedly would end up in the same kind of quagmire.

The shadow of Hugo Chavez lurks in the background as George Bush makes his frantic rounds, meeting with Latin American heads of state.

Chavez wants to make it clear that he has done more for the poorer Latin nations than the Bush Administration has. Bankrolled by more than $50 billion a year in oil earnings, Chavez has been dispensing cash around the region like a fairy godfather. He’s bought up more than $3 billion worth of debt in Argentina, given economic aid to Bolivia and sold oil to his friends in the region at bargain basement prices.

The Bush Administration, on the other hand, has been more Scrooge than Santa Claus when dealing with Latin American nations. US aid to the region barely totaled a measly $1.7 billion this year-nearly half of that going to Colombia.

Small wonder than that Argentine President Nestor Kirchner has been cozy with Chavez, and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega have been giving Bush the bum’s rush.

Remember the “Alliance for Progress”? In March of 1961, President John F. Kennedy proposed a ten-year economic plan for Latin America.

“we propose to complete the revolution of the Americas,” it said. “to build a hemisphere where all men can hope for a suitable standard of living and all can live out their lives in dignity and in freedom”

It worked well. JFK had the Latin countries eating out of his hand. There was no Hugo Chavez to gum up the works.

George Bush is no JFK. Maybe he shoulda stood in bed instead of taking this trip. This trip may well turn into a nasty slip.

Stephen Fleischman, television writer-director-producer, spent thirty years in Network News at CBS and ABC, starting in 1953. In 1959, he participated in the formation of the renowned Murrow-Friendly “CBS Reports” series. In 1983, Fleischman won the prestigious Columbia University-DuPont Television Journalism Award. In 2004, he wrote his memoir. See: http://www.ARedintheHouse.com/, E-mail: stevefl@ca.rr.com

 

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STEPHEN FLEISCHMAN, writer-producer-director of documentaries, spent thirty years in Network News at CBS and ABC. His memoir is now in print. See www.amahchewahwah.com, e-mail stevefl@ca.rr.com

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