The Washingtonpost.com's Dan Froomkin reports on president Bush's trip to Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico in an attempt to counter the growing influence of Hugo Chavez. But it may be too little, too late:
Bush's Anti-Chavez Tour, by Dan Froomkin, washingtonpost.com: Just before heading off for a six-day visit to Latin America, President Bush yesterday attempted to co-opt the populist rhetoric of his hemispheric arch-nemesis, President Hugo Chavez, of Venezuela.
Speaking to the "tens of millions in our hemisphere" who "remain stuck in poverty, and shut off from the promises of the new century," Bush said: "My message to those trabajadores y campesinos is, you have a friend in the United States of America. We care about your plight."
But if you think Bush has a credibility problem in his own country, it's even worse south of the border -- especially when it comes to issues of social justice.
Let there be no doubt about this: Bush's attempt to persuade Latin Americans that he is the champion of the poor -- given his pro-business bent and six years of an almost exclusive focus on free trade and terrorism -- is utterly doomed. Almost laughably so.
Bush leaves for Brazil on Thursday, then travels to Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico. Here's the text of his speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce yesterday. Startlingly, it contains the phrase "social justice" fully five times.
Bush even associated himself with the forces of revolution (albeit a slow-burning one.) Hearkening back to two great liberators -- Simon Bolivar and George Washington -- Bush said "it is our mission to complete the revolution they began on our two continents. The millions across our hemisphere who every day suffer the degradations of poverty and hunger have a right to be impatient. ..." ...
Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post: "He talked of grinding poverty and called it 'a scandal' that democracy and capitalism have not delivered more to Latin Americans. The working poor need change, he declared. He invoked Simon Bolivar, the 'great liberator,' and vowed to 'complete the revolution' and bring true 'social justice' to the region.
"Hugo Chavez? No, George W. Bush.
"As he prepares to embark on a six-day trip to Latin America this week, the president is launching a new campaign to compete with Chavez for the region's hearts and minds... After six years of focusing elsewhere in the world, Bush in his final two years wants to convince the nation's neighbors that, as he put it yesterday, 'we care.' But he faces an enormous gulf between ambition and reality, analysts say."
Ron Hutcheson and Pablo Bachelet write for McClatchy Newspapers: "President Bush ... acknowledged Monday that U.S.-backed economic policies and free-trade agreements have failed to lift millions of Latin Americans from poverty.
"Sprinkling his speech with Spanish words and phrases, Bush announced a series of relatively modest efforts to help the poor, including a plan to send U.S. military medical teams to the region. . . . "The speech was the opening shot in a battle with Chavez that will play out during the president's travels. . . .
The experts doubt Bush can turn things around.
" 'Unfortunately, in over 40 years of study of the region, I have rarely seen a moment where there is as much mistrust of the United States and as strong a rejection of the U.S. posture in the world,' said Arturo Valenzuela, a former Clinton official who heads the Latin America program at Georgetown University."
Maura Reynolds, Patrick J. McDonnell and Chris Kraul write in the Los Angeles Times: ...
"The emphasis on addressing inequality marks a shift for the president, who has been assailed for stressing free trade and democracy south of the border and ignoring the social ills that continue to stymie the region. . . .
"Bush in effect has signaled his intention to present a counter-version of Chavez's well-crafted image of a social crusader..."
But what ammunition does he have to make his case? Not much. ... Larry Rohter writes in the New York Times that Bush's "promises of American support and assistance are likely to fall short of what Mr. Chavez, with his oil wealth, has been delivering recently."
Rohter writes that Chavez "is acting as if the trip, which he mocks as doomed to failure, is aimed solely at combating his influence, and has responded with a maneuver of his own. While Mr. Bush is in Uruguay on Friday and Saturday, Mr. Chavez plans to be leading anti-Bush demonstrations just across the River Plate in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he has cultivated an increasingly friendly relationship with that country's Peronist president, Néstor Kirchner. . . .
And John D. McKinnon and Matt Moffett write in the Wall Street Journal ...: "President Bush travels to Latin America this week to take on Hugo Chavez's militant brand of economic populism. But the weakened U.S. president could spend much of the trip defending against charges his own economic policies have helped shortchange the region."
Here's the transcript of an extensive briefing on the trip by National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley yesterday. All you really need to know is this exchange:
"Q How much of this is an anti-Chavez tour?
"MR. HADLEY: It's really not."
Yeah, right. ...