12 Mar 2007
Three days before his scheduled arrival, protesting Colombian university students were already engaged in running battles with the police. On his arrival in Sao Paolo Brazil, over 10,000 people turned out to angrily shout “Bush Go Home”. In Guatemala, the Associated Press reported that Mayan priests were planning to purify a sacred archaeological site to rid it of “bad spirits” after George Bush visits it. The Voice of America conducted a random interview on the streets of Montevideo, Uruguay. Of more than a dozen people interviewed, only one said she was pleased to have Mr. Bush in her country.
George Walker Bush is visiting his backyard at a time when anti-Americanism is en vogue globally. Hostility to the Bush administration by many citizens of Latin America was already a foregone conclusion. Politically, more and more people in the region are turning left, some say due to the influence of the Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and his brand of ‘21st Century Socialism’. Like elsewhere in the world, many people of this region resent the unilateral posture of the Bush administration and the invasion and occupation of Iraq by the U.S. Some are suspicious of American economic intentions in the region and many accuse the Bush administration of neglecting them.
Observers generally agree that George Bush has embarked on this trip to try and deflect the accusations of neglect and fight the influence of Chavez in the region. “I don’t think America gets enough credit for trying to help improve people’s lives”. George Bush said during a joint press conference with Brazilian president Lula da Silva. Throughout his trip the U.S president made all efforts to remind his audience that America is a caring nation. “My trip is to explain as clearly as I can that our nation is generous and compassionate, that when we see poverty, we care; that when we see illiteracy, we want to do something about it”.
As George Bush was pleading his case for the recognition of American goodwill, his archrival in the region Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez shot back while addressing over 30000 supporters at an “anti-imperialist” rally in Buenos Aires Argentina. “He thinks he is Columbus, discovering poverty after seven years in power”.
No matter how the Bush camp tried to downplay the Chavez factor, it is emerging clearly that one of the reasons for his trip was to counter the rising influence of the charismatic Venezuelan leader in the hemisphere. The battle for the hearts and minds of the Latinos, as George Bush is finding out during this his five-nation trip is difficult and frustrating. As the US president is greeted at each stop with thousands of angry demonstrators chanting “Gringo, go home”, some of his aides have started advancing the theory that some of the protesters have been bankrolled by Chavez. I understand their frustration. The popularity of the president is at an all time low at home and anti-American feelings are rising abroad. The Iraqi war is taking a toll on George Bush and the legacy of his presidency. It is not misleading when Bush says that that America cares. It is not also right to think that recipients of America’s assistance are ungrateful. The way people are reacting towards America is due to the perception of a country seen through the prism of the actions of the current administration.
One of the principal problems haunting America is the commission by the Bush administration of “the worst foreign policy mistake” in U.S history- courtesy Sen. Harry Reid. This “mistake”, the invasion of Iraq, is largely responsible for rallying people around the world to vent anger on an America that is seen as arrogant and insensitive to the feelings of others. As the blood continues to spill in Iraq and the lives of innocent people keep tearing apart, the sympathy for these victims gradually mounts to the extent that it beclouds all the goodwill that America as earned. It is now obvious that it will apparently require another president other than the present occupant of the White House to start assembling the broken pieces of American image together. As Bush gets along and meets face to face with angry demonstrators on the streets of Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico it will become evident to him that America requires a lot of effort to woo her neighbors to the South.
George Bush’s visit to the region was partly to foster economic and trade ties between the U.S and his host nations. Other issues like technology and immigration were also on the agenda. Chavez whose country joined MERCOSUR (Spanish abbreviation for Southern Common Market) in 2006 was visiting Argentina (a MERCOSUR member) and Bolivia (an associate member) precisely for similar reasons like Bush. If he had his way Chavez will like to convert MERCOSUR that comprises Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela into a powerful trade block that will counter what he perceives as American economic and political hegemony in the region. MERCOSUR represents 75% of all of South America’s economic activity. Its member states have more than $1 trillion in combined GDP and they constitute 65% of the continent’s population.
President Bush cannot pretend (as he seems to portray during his trip) not to notice someone like Chavez. It is largely due to him that some of the signs of the waning US influence are more visible to the ordinary people of Latin America.
Njei Moses Timah