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Chavez protests gringo on bush tour { February 2007 }

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   http://www.reuters.com/article/wtMostRead/idUSN0835684920070310

http://www.reuters.com/article/wtMostRead/idUSN0835684920070310

Bush ignores Chavez on Latin American tour
Sat Mar 10, 2007 5:17PM EST

By Steve Holland

ANCHORENA PARK, Uruguay (Reuters) - President Bush stuck to talk of trade and friendship on Saturday during a Latin American tour, ignoring provocations from his ideological rival, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

With shouts of "Gringo, go home!" Chavez led an anti-Bush protest on Friday night in Buenos Aires, the Argentine capital across the River Plate from Montevideo, where the U.S. leader arrived from Brazil on a week-long, five-nation tour.

Bush refrained from mentioning his leftist nemesis when asked after meeting Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez whether Chavez should be considered a threat.

"I've come to South America and Central America to advance a positive, constructive diplomacy that is being conducted by my government on behalf of the American people," Bush said.

"I would call our diplomacy quiet and effective."

Deeply unpopular in Latin America because of the Iraq war and U.S. trade and immigration policies, Bush is pushing a softer message aimed at improving his reputation and bolstering U.S. influence in the region.

Chavez blames U.S.-backed free-market policies for increasing poverty in Latin America and has embarked on a counter-tour during Bush's visit.

"When the U.S. president says now that he's worried about poverty and Latin America and that he's come to help, you've got to say 'hypocrite' to him," Chavez told several thousand people in the flood-hit Bolivian city of Trinidad.

Many waved Cuban and Venezuelan flags as Chavez spoke alongside his close ally, Bolivian President Evo Morales.

Chavez trumpeted his own country's aid programs and said he would fly to Managua on Sunday to meet Nicaragua's leftist president, Daniel Ortega.

The trip is likely to coincide with Bush's visit to nearby Guatemala, where he arrives on Sunday night after a stopover in Colombia.

COMMERCIAL TIES

Bush traveled by helicopter on Saturday to meet Vazquez at his presidential retreat in Anchorena Park, some 125 miles (200 km) west of Montevideo.

Vazquez took office in 2005 as Uruguay's first leftist leader and has carved a moderate path, seeking to deepen commercial ties with the United States.

Washington sees the business-friendly socialism espoused by Vazquez and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, whom Bush met on Friday, as a possible counterbalance to Chavez and his leftist allies.

Bush also declined to respond to Chavez's attacks or mention his name while speaking to reporters in Sao Paulo on Friday. Hours later, Chavez led tens of thousands of Argentines in the "anti-imperialist" rally.

In Guatemala City, some 1,000 people marched to the U.S. embassy, burned an American flag and spray-painted "Go Home Terrorist Bush" and other slogans on nearby walls.

In Sao Paulo on Thursday, Brazilian police fired teargas and used clubs against thousands of demonstrators.

Despite Chavez's socialist policies and anti-Washington rhetoric, Venezuela is a vital oil supplier to the United States.

The Bush administration is looking to bolster its push for bilateral free-trade agreements with Latin American countries and has offered a deal to Uruguay.

Vazquez has hinted he is interested, which has angered some countries in the South American trading bloc Mercosur, dominated by Brazil, Argentina and new member Venezuela.

Mercosur, which also includes Paraguay, prohibits bilateral trade pacts, instead calling for the bloc to negotiate as a whole. But Vazquez signaled his interest in forging deepening commercial ties with the United Sates.

"The road that we have followed and discussed today is the way we can increase commercial trade," he said.

(Additional reporting by Helen Popper in Buenos Aires, Matt Spetalnick and Kevin Gray in Montevideo, and Eduardo Garcia in Trinidad, Bolivia)

Reuters 2006


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