Bush targets Chavez and Castro

Amid concerns in Washington that poverty may enhance the appeal of anti-US, economically populist messages, Mr Bush said in a speech that “ensuring social justice for the Americas requires choosing between two competing visions.”

“One offers a vision of hope. It is founded on representative government, integration into the world community, and a faith in the transformative power of freedom,” he told student, diplomats and business leaders.

“The other seeks to roll back the democratic progress of the past two decades by playing to fear, pitting neighbor against neighbor and blaming others for their own failures to provide for their people,” he said.

While he never named Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez or Cuban leader Fidel Castro, White House aides tacitly acknowledged that they were the targets of what was the keynote speech of a five-day, three-country trip to the region.

Mr Bush, making his first ever visit to Brazil, also celebrated US ties with the region’s richest economy despite opposition here to his vision for a mammoth hemispheric free trade zone stretching from Canada to Chile.

Trade talks

After talks with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio da Silva, Mr Bush bowed to his host’s view that successful World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations have to precede new talks on creating the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

“He has got to be convinced, just like the people of America must be convinced that a trade arrangement in our hemisphere is good for jobs, is good for the quality of life,” Mr Bush conceded during a joint appearance.

Presidents Bush and Chavez stayed away from each other at a 34-nation Summit of the Americas in Argentina, where Venezuela and four other countries including Brazil blocked progress on the FTAA.

Fidel Castro was not invited.

Brazil has said there is no point in doing so until after the so-called
Doha Round of WTO talks, which have bogged down over agricultural subsidies, the same chief obstacle in the Americas trade debate.

“The president said ‘look, let’s work together on Doha, and see how that goes, and we’ll continue working on the free trade agreement of the Americas,'” said Mr Bush, who was making his first visit to Brazil.

Lula, speaking through an interpreter, called US aid to its farmers “unjustified barriers to our bilateral trade” and that he and Bush had explored their differences “without surprises or confrontations.”

In his speech, Mr Bush said that the United States will eliminate US agricultural subsidies but can only do so if other large trading partners agree, specifically the European Union, which has resisted.

Regional poverty

At the same time, he pushed his vision of free trade as the best remedy for widespread poverty at a time when the region has swung leftward politically.

US officials have expressed concerns about efforts by Mr Chavez to use his country’s vast oil wealth to promote an anti-US, populist agenda they fear could appeal to the millions trapped in poverty in the region.

Earlier, in a roundtable discussion with prominent Brazilians, Mr Bush shrugged off the sometimes violent protests he attracted at the summit in Argentina, saying: “I expect there to be dissent. That’s what freedom is all about.”

Outside the residence where Mr Bush and Lula met, some 200 protesters chanted “Fascist Bush, the real terrorist” and burned an effigy of the US president dressed in a shirt with a swastika.

Mr Bush hoped to enlist Lula’s help in pressuring the European Union to agree to deeper cuts in import duties on agricultural products ahead of critical December talks that may decide the Doha round’s fate.

Mr Bush and Lula had also been expected to discuss reform of the United Nations. Brazil, along with Japan, India and Germany, has sought permanent membership on the UN Security Council.