George Bush's visit to Argentina provokes demonstrations

President George Bush's visit to Argentina for the Summit of the Americas provoked demonstrations on the streets of Buenos Aires in protest at his foreign policy and attitude to trade. Nick Caistor meets some of the local people who have lived through the economic hardships of recent years. The man at the bar is crooning enthusiastically if not exactly in tune.

His companion is hunched over that quintessential tango instrument, the bandoneon, squeezing out a song that tells of hope betrayed in a harsh, uncomprehending world. Sitting next to me, Mario is intent on explaining how it is all George Bush's fault.

According to my friend, who has lived all his life in Buenos Aires, every time Argentina achieves stability and economic success, the Yankees have to spoil it all. They cannot, he says, stand the competition. This was what happened four years ago, when the Argentine economy collapsed. The pesos Mario had saved, each of which was then worth $1, suddenly lost two-thirds of their value as the peso plummeted.

And since then the dreaded International Monetary Fund has been trying to impose its stranglehold on the Argentine economy and force Argentines to comply with its recipe of cheap exports, firms being sold off to foreign investors and even Argentine beef being banned from the United States on the grounds that most people in Argentina say are spurious.

Two elderly couples have started to lurch, rather than dance, their complicated tango steps around our dinner tables.

We are in La Boca, once the immigrant area of the port of Buenos Aires, now full of restaurants that all seem to be crammed with ordinary Argentines out to enjoy themselves.

Like many of the diners here, Mario clings to a folk memory of a period when, almost a century ago, the booming Argentine economy made the country one of the top 10 nations in the world and when politicians and other patriots saw it as being a power in the south to rival the United States in the north.

This never happened but, even now, there is widespread resentment among Argentines that somewhere along the line their nation became nothing more than a middle-sized country beset with severe political and economic problems.

In the past, Argentina and other countries in Latin America were keen to follow the United States, which has often seen the whole continent in terms of keeping [Cuban President Fidel] Castro and his communist ideas out. Thirty years ago, the Argentine military dictatorship was encouraged by Washington in its fight against communist "subversion". More recently, the former Peronist President, Carlos Menem, described Argentina as having a "carnal relationship" with the United States but, as Mario comments sarcastically, "We always knew which of the two was on top”, reports BBC news. I.L.

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