President George W. Bush will confront rising anti-U.S. sentiment and doubts about his goals for expanding trade and democracy as he meets with Western Hemisphere leaders this week.
The 34-nation Summit of the Americas, opening tomorrow in Mar del Plata, Argentina, takes place at a time when U.S. policies are being challenged by President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, which has South America's third-largest economy, and when U.S. relations with allies such as Argentina have cooled.
``It is fair to say that confidence in President Bush's `freedom agenda' in the Americas has eroded, as masses and leaders alike doubt his intentions,'' said Roger F. Noriega, who was assistant U.S. secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs until earlier this year.
Bush has put free trade and free markets at the top of his inter-Americas agenda, calling that the path toward greater economic growth, eradication of poverty and reinforcement of democracy. At the same time, he has tamped down expectations for any breakthrough on stalled negotiations for a hemispheric free trade accord, and analysts such as Peter Hakim, head of the Washington research organization Inter-American Dialogue, say the summit is unlikely to spark any significant advance toward U.S. goals.
Since the last Summit of the Americas in Mexico two years ago, there's been ``a kind of unraveling of consensus,'' Hakim said. ``The best they can hope for is a reaffirmation of some basic principles: the importance of democracy, importance of social justice, importance of trade openings.''
``There's a kind of rejection of U.S. foreign policy generally, and the U.S. must recompose its image. And that's going to be a tall order,'' Arturo Valenzuela, a professor at the Center for Latin American Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, said.
Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, the host for the summit tomorrow and Saturday, will have face-to-face talks with Bush tomorrow. After the summit, Bush will go to Brazil, South America's biggest economy, for trade talks Nov. 6 with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and then to Panama Nov. 7 to meet with President Martin Torrijos on trade and to tour the Panama Canal.
A recent poll of Latin Americans in business, government, and education in six Latin American nations showed that just 17 percent of Argentinean leaders and 12 percent of leaders in Brazil viewed Bush positively.
The subtext for the summit is the tension between the U.S. and Venezuela's Chavez. He has denounced the U.S. as a ``terrorist state'' and promoted a pro-Cuba, anti-capitalist agenda financed by higher oil prices. Venezuela remains the U.S.'s fourth-largest source of crude oil.
Chavez, 51, has accused Bush of trying to plot his overthrow or assassination, which the U.S. government denies. He has also criticized the U.S.-sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas, which has been stalled since the beginning of the year, saying it only promotes capitalism and economic domination by Washington.
Bush, trying to soften the U.S. image and regain his footing, has shifted tactics on trade. He told Latin American journalists that hemispheric governments should set aside their differences for now to concentrate on building a consensus position for the so-called Doha Round of World Trade Organization negotiations next month in Hong Kong.
The Americas trade accord has been sidelined in part because the U.S. and Brazil haven't been able to agree on issues such as agricultural subsidies, food safety rules on beef or intellectual property rights, Bloomberg reports.
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