- Wracked by multiple political crises at home and receiving
the lowest approval rating for any recent US president, George W. Bush
is leaving the country Thursday to face an even more hostile audience.
- The two-day quadrennial Summit of the Americas being
held in the Argentine seaside resort of Mar del Plata Nov. 4-5 will be
marked by one of the largest demonstrations in the country's history -
called to repudiate the policies of the Bush administration.
- On the eve of the summit, the Argentine daily Pagina
12 reported a poll showing that six out of ten Argentines oppose Bush's
presence in the country. By contrast, 75 percent welcomed the visit by
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who has been vilified by Washington
and has in turn denounced US foreign policy.
- Protests began yesterday over the Bush visit-three days
before his arrival-with blockades of bridges and highways in the Buenos
Aires area and the appearance of posters throughout the Argentine capital
bearing the slogans "Stop Bush" and "Fuera Bush," in
some cases superimposed over photographs of wounded Iraqi children.
- Nor are the protests limited to Argentina. Last Wednesday,
some 6,000 people marched on the US Embassy in Brasilia in an anti-Bush
protest. The US president is scheduled to visit the Brazilian capital following
the summit, going from there to a stop in Panama before returning to Washington.
- The presence of the US president in Argentina has been
preceded by the imposition of a massive security clampdown. An army of
7,000 additional police has been deployed in the resort city, which has
been divided with three concentric circles of chain-linked fencing. Residents
of the area surrounding the summit site have been identified and provided
with passes to enter and leave their own homes. "We've been imprisoned,"
one of them told a local television network.
- A 100-mile no-fly zone has been declared surrounding
the city, with orders to shoot down unidentified planes.
- In addition to the blanket of security imposed by the
Argentine government, Bush is arriving with an entourage of some 2,000,
much of it composed of security personnel. Last Friday, two giant US military
cargo planes arrived in Buenos Aires carrying large quantities of arms
and two helicopters for use in guarding the US president.
- On Friday a mass march expected to draw as many as 100,000
people will take place in Mar del Plata. Leading it will be popular football
star Diego Maradona and Argentine Nobel Prize winner Adolfo Pérez
- Bush is "a torturer, violator of human rights, an
assassin, a violator of United Nations resolutions, of international treaties
and of the sovereignty of peoples, as has happened in Iraq," Pérez
Esquivel said in a radio interview Saturday explaining his participation.
- Maradona, who now hosts one of Argentina's most popular
television shows, said, "In Argentina, there are people who are against
Bush being there. I am the first. He did us a lot of harm. As far as I'm
concerned, he is a murderer; he looks down on us and tramples over us.
I am going to lead that march along with my daughter."
- Also participating in the march will be Cindy Sheehan,
the mother of a US soldier slain in Iraq, and Javier Couso, the brother
of the Spanish television cameraman who was killed when an American tank
fired on the Hotel Palestine, the headquarters of international journalists,
during the US storming of Baghdad in April 2003.
- Nora Cortiña, of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo-Founding
Line, said that her group was also joining the march. "We will not
only say no to Bush, we will say no to the politics of subordination and
dependency," she said. "The best homage we can pay to our children
is to be independent and free as they wanted us to be."
- Meanwhile Argentina's Association of State Workers has
announced a nationwide strike on Friday to protest Bush's presence in Argentina.
The walkout will include national, state and municipal workers. The Central
de Trabajadores Argentinos (Argentine Workers Federation) has called for
strike action as well.
- Thousands are expected to participate in a "People's
Summit," being held in Mar del Plata. Venezuelan President Chávez
is the only Latin American head of state expected to address this opposition
- Bush is widely regarded as persona non grata in Argentina.
Last July, the mayor of Mar del Plata, Daniel Katz, commented on the upcoming
arrival of the US president by describing Bush as the "most unpleasant
guy in the world." Attempts were made to get a court order barring
his entry into the country.
- On Monday, a campaign was initiated in Argentina via
email and text-messaging calling on people to hang black flags from their
homes and cars as a symbol of "mourning" over Bush's presence.
- The "mourning," the message read, "is
so that we can show not only our rejection and indignation, but also our
respect for all those who have died and are dying because of this perverse
- Residents have already hung homemade signs and banners
denouncing Bush from apartment balconies both in Buenos Aires and Mar del
- Summit split over free trade zone
- Within the summit itself, Bush faces little prospect
of success. Washington's aim is to use the gathering to jump start the
stalled negotiations on creating a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)
and to push for closer subordination of the Latin American governments
to US militarism in the name of the "global war on terrorism."
- This is the fourth Summit of the Americas, the first
being held in 1994 in Miami in the wake of the North American Free Trade
Agreement's implementation between the US, Canada and Mexico. That summit
declared its support for widening this free trade zone "from Alasaka
to Ushuaia," Argentina's-and the world's-southernmost city.
- Subsequent summits in Santiago, Chile in 1998 and Quebec
City in Canada in 2001 reaffirmed the goal of enacting the hemispheric-wide
trade zone by 2005. The deadline for the agreement, however, came and went
without any FTAA agreement being concluded. No meetings have been held
to push the process along in the last year and a half.
- This year, instead of trade and security, the theme of
the summit, selected by Argentina, is "Creating jobs to fight poverty
and strengthen governance."
- Now, diplomats in Argentina are working down to the wire
in an attempt to craft a common declaration that can be signed by all 34
countries participating in the summit. The sticking point in these negotiations
is how the FTAA will be mentioned. Originally, Argentina reportedly opposed
including any reference to the US-backed trade deal, but subsequently relented.
- In Washington, the Argentine ambassador to the US, José
Bordón, denied Monday that Argentina had agreed to back the FTAA
in exchange for US support in negotiating a new debt agreement with the
International Monetary Fund, the AFP news agency reported. "There
is not going to be any kind of give and take," Bordón declared.
- Brazil and Venezuela have put up the stiffest opposition
to the FTAA. Argentina's President Néstor Kirchner, elected in 2003
on the basis of overwhelming popular hostility to the IMF and the so-called
"Washington consensus" model of economic development, has also
voiced opposition to the pact, but now appears more malleable.
- The FTAA has nothing to do with freedom, in trade or
otherwise. It is a blueprint for a regional trading bloc that would subordinate
the economies and markets of Latin America to the needs of Wall Street,
allowing for the greater mobility of finance capital and thereby creating
the best conditions for pitting workers of the different countries in the
hemisphere against each other while driving down wages and social conditions.
- The proposed free trade deal has met with widespread
popular opposition in Latin America. Two decades of so-called economic
reforms-privatization of key industries and social services, the opening
up of markets, deregulation of financial sectors and the abandonment of
production for domestic consumption-have led to economic stagnation, rising
unemployment, widespread poverty, massive indebtedness and a series of
catastrophic economic crises.
- Nowhere is this truer than in Argentina, where the economic
collapse of December 2001 devastated what had been among the continent's
highest living standards. As a recent report spelled out, today nearly
39 percent of the country's population-and 55 percent of Argentine children-live
- The Brazilian government has opposed the FTAA agreement
because of its one-sided favoring of US interests. Washington has refused
to amend its massive agricultural subsidies program, which effectively
bars the access by Brazilian agribusiness and its products like sugar,
citrus and soy beans to US markets.
- Venezuela, whose only major export is oil, with the US
as its biggest customer, has no real economic interest in the FTAA, and
Chávez has promoted Latin American economic integration in opposition
to opening up the continent's markets to unrestrained penetration by US
- In the face of opposition from Latin America's largest
economies, the Bush administration has attempted to forge unequal deals
with the region's weakest and most dependent states, concluding a Central
American Free Trade Agreement with Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras,
Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.
- Meanwhile, American capitalism faces competition from
its economic rivals on a scale that is unprecedented in what Washington
previously referred to as its "own backyard."
- Mercosur, which includes Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and
Paraguay, with six associated countries (Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia,
Ecuador and Venezuela), is currently working to conclude a free trade agreement
with the European Union. A meeting between the two trading blocs is scheduled
for the beginning of next year.
- Chile and China have concluded negotiations on a free
trade agreement, the first such bilateral deal reached by Beijing in Latin
America, following a concerted push for Chinese investment and trade deals
throughout the continent.
- With little hope of achieving anything of substance at
the Mar del Plata summit, the Bush White House is fearful that the images
that come out of the meeting may do little to help the embattled administration.
The president's supporters appear to be obsessed with the threat that Bush
could be forced to directly debate Venezuela's President Chávez
and come out the worse for it.
- At a conference on the summit convened last Thursday
by the right-wing Washington think tank, the Hudson Institute, the principal
speaker spoke of Chávez "lying in wait" at the summit
to organize an "ambush of President Bush."
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