Bush and Latin America 2: Brazil Isn’t Happy


Well, that didn’t take long.

Thousands of students, workers and environmentalists protesting President Bush’s arrival here Thursday shut down a road in a central business district, and some clashed with helmet-wearing riot police who fired tear gas and beat demonstrators.

The boisterous rally and the sharp police response presaged a potentially volatile visit for the president, who landed here in the evening for a six-day tour through Latin America, his longest since taking office. Protesters also gathered Thursday in Colombia and Mexico, two later stops on Bush’s itinerary, and organizers expect tens of thousands at a demonstration in Buenos Aires on Friday.

Before his plane had even set down on the tarmac, they were gathering. Six thousand of them, and that’s only the beginning. Expressions of deep disgust were everywhere.

Clarice Marcon, 18, mocked Bush’s attempt to win favor here by sending a U.S. Navy hospital ship to treat patients during a dozen port calls. “It won’t work,” she said. “There are 200 million people here. A hospital boat? It’s shameful.”

The anger at Bush was palpable at the rally, which closed part of Avenue Paulista, a major thoroughfare lined by tall office buildings in this teeming city of 18 million. “Bush Murderer, We Hate You,” read one banner held aloft. Many in the crowd hoisted signs or wore stickers featuring pictures of Bush with an Adolf Hitler-style mustache and the phrase “Fora Bush,” or “Get Out Bush,” with the “s” in his name replaced by a swastika. Some threw objects at police.

Protesters included a mix of students, leftists waving hammer-and-sickle flags, trade unionists, political parties and agrarians, among others.

It’s going to get worse.

The demonstration Friday in Buenos Aires could dwarf the estimated 6,000 who turned out here. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who has called Bush “the devil,” is headlining the evening rally in a soccer stadium in the Argentine capital across the Rio de la Plata from Uruguay, where the president arrives Friday night.

As for Junior’s fine speech in which he mentioned “social justice” five times and said his visit to Latin America was in his role as a “champion of the poor”, turns out he’s in Brazil to cut a deal with Lula da Silva on behalf of his cronies in the energy industry – a deal Brazilian environmentalists say is likely to accelerate the destruction of their rain forest and do little or nothing to eradicate or even dent the region’s poverty. Lula, a centrist as things go in Latin America these days, wants to develop his country and will take whatever he can get. But Junior isn’t really offering all that much except the usual: promises he has no intention of keeping. That’s his main stock in trade.

[B]efore arriving here, Mr. Bush announced a number of programs to help the poor in the region, whom he referred to, in Spanish, as “workers and peasants.”

He promised hundreds of millions of dollars to help families buy homes and said he would dispatch a Navy hospital ship to the region to provide free health services.

What Bush fails time and again to learn – among many other things – is that people in trouble judge you by what you do, not what you say. He has been touting a “message” that in spite of the “perception” that he has been stingy with Latin America, he has really been quite generous.

As President Bush arrived in Brazil on Thursday, he brought with him a message that he believes has been lost on the region: U.S. concerns about persistent poverty have prompted a doubling of economic aid to Latin America since 2001.

***

To make the claim, however, Bush is relying on what some analysts called an accounting gimmick. In fact, they said, U.S. aid to Latin America has remained relatively stable since 2000. And the budget Bush sent to Congress last month proposed cutting aid from $1.6 billion to $1.47 billion, an 8 percent reduction.

“Instead of playing hat tricks with the aid numbers or inventing mini-programs for a presidential trip, the Bush administration should invest more seriously in the kinds of aid that really wins friends and influences people in Latin America,” said Lisa Haugaard, executive director of the nonprofit Latin America Working Group in Washington.

Not everyone is either taken in by one of his standard accounting tricks or overwhelmed by his insistence on his generosity.

In an editorial headlined “Uncle Scrooge’s Paltry Package,” the conservative daily newspaper O Estado de São Paulo noted Wednesday that Mr. Bush’s offering amounted to “the equivalent of five days’ cost of the war in Iraq….”

And that was the conservative paper.

Junior’s spin-meisters are doing the best they can to make this nonsense look reasonable but every time they open their mouths they give themselves away. Nobody is talking about building realistic programs to affect the region’s deep and abiding problems, many of which we helped create or make worse than they already were. No, this trip is about “perceptions”.

Some of Mr. Bush’s aides said they were worried that perceptions that the United States had neglected its southern neighbors, and frustration in lower classes that had not reaped the benefits of free trade, were helping to fuel leftist movements.

Stephen J. Hadley, Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, said, “Something we have not done well enough is getting out the full scope of the president’s message.”

Those aren’t “perceptions”, guys, they’re facts. Bush has ignored the region when his trade policies have not actively harmed it by invariably favoring US corporate interests over those of the “peasants” he claims to be helping. This may be about “message” to the Bushies – that’s usually all they care about – but it’s about reality to the people who live there. There is a lot of hard feeling about the effect of Bush’s policies.

Although President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will be meeting with Mr. Bush on Friday to sign the ethanol accord and is scheduled to visit him at Camp David on March 31, the leftist Workers’ Party he leads has chosen to support and take part in the anti-Bush demonstrations.

The party warned on its Web site that Mr. Bush “shouldn’t count on Brazil for imperialist actions in the region.” One essay called him “the big boss of international terrorism,” while another declared that Mr. Bush was “persona non grata” in Brazil.

“The United States in general and the Bush government in particular are brutally violent,” wrote Valter Pomar, the party’s secretary for international relations. “We will only be free of this threat when the North American people constitute a government on the left.”

Bush himself remains unconcerned by all the brouhaha and the anger and the disappointment.

In an interview with the Spanish-language broadcaster Univision before leaving Washington, Bush said he was neither surprised nor angry about protests. “It happens quite frequently when I travel around the world,” he said. “I understand people’s concern about war. Nobody likes war. But I’ve had to make the decisions I made in order to not only secure our people but to deal with threats and to help people be free.”

Right. He’s all about “freedom”. Unfortunately, the “freedom” he’s all about is the freedom of US corporations to appropriate or buy cheap the resources of the planet wherever they find them, and the only one who doesn’t get that is…him.

Do I have to say it? This is going to get ugly.

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One response to “Bush and Latin America 2: Brazil Isn’t Happy

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