George War Bush in Brazil: persona non grata

SÃO PAOLO, Brazil — President George W. (“War”) Bush visited Brazil and four other countries — Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico — during his Latin American tour last week.

Since 1990, when Bush’s father was in the White House, Washington has focused on reaching “free trade” agreements with countries in the region, aiming to dominate their economies.

However, these free trade or “neoliberal” agreements, which involve the privatization of state assets, cuts in social spending, anti-unionism and subservience to the dictates of the World Bank, have failed miserably. They have instead fueled massive grassroots movements which elected (and in some cases re-elected) progressive and left governments in Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador and Nicaragua.

Bush’s trip was widely seen as an attempt to counteract the influence of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and indirectly, socialist Cuba, and the spread of progressive and left-wing politics in the region.

Energy policies loomed large in Bush’s meetings with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. The U.S.-Brazil pact on ethanol promotes ethanol production in countries of the Caribbean, South America and Central America. It is also seen as a move to counteract the growing influence of Chavez’s Venezuela, a major oil producer.

Although much was said about “partnership” in the bilateral relations between the U.S. and Brazil, Bush said nothing could be done about the 54-cent-a-gallon U.S. tariff on imports of Brazilian ethanol made from sugar until 2009. The stiff tariff, which the Brazilian government calls unfair, is designed to help U.S. corn companies. Ethanol can be made from either crop.

The Brazilian people and government are strongly opposed to the Iraq war and to U.S. economic policies, including such trade barriers. That’s why many thousands of protesters took to the streets of cities all over the country, including Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Salvador and Porto Alegre. Demonstrators called Bush a “murderer” and a “fascist.” The security arrangements for Bush were intense, the largest ever for a visiting chief of state.

Bush tried to resurrect his claim to “compassionate conservatism” at home and abroad. “My trip is to explain as clearly as I can that our nation is generous and compassionate,” he said. Such words sound profoundly hypocritical to most Latin Americans.

In today’s Latin America, 40 percent of its 570 million people live in poverty, with 50 million subsisting on less than a dollar a day. This crushing poverty is a result of decades of U.S. policies that have looted the natural resources and exploited the labor of the people through multinational corporations. That’s why George “War” Bush is persona non grata in Latin America.

Pedro Oliveira is a journalist for the Communist Party of Brazil. Teresa Albano contributed to this article.