Americas

Diogenes and His Lamp: George W. Bush's Latin American Odyssey

Bush listens to questions from the press under a portrait of Simón Bolívar at the presidential palace in Bogota. (Photo: Mandel Ngan / AFP-Getty Images)

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, besides being Homer's second epic poem—retelling the wanderings and adventures of the cunning king of Ithaca, Odysseus, a leader of the Greeks, after the fall of Troy—the word" odyssey" has taken on the generic meaning of "an extended adventurous wandering," and it is in this sense that this essay seeks to examine President George W. Bush's tour of Latin America that took place from March 8 through March 14, and encompassed stops in Uruguay, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico.

The mainstream media played up the event as an attempt by the president of the United States to improve relations with a region that his administration had neglected following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and despite promises early on in his administration that he intended to be an amigo to Latin Americans, a better neighbor, and which, no doubt, played well with his conservative Hispanic supporters in the United States, to which he owed his win in 2000.

The mainstream media in the United States, and, for that matter, much of Europe, as well, portrayed Bush's Latin American trip as an attempt by his administration to counter the sinister President Hugo Chávez's growing aegis in the region—his meddling in the affairs of the countries of the region, his dalliance with Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and his cavorting with Cuba's (now ailing) Fidel Castro. (I'm just going by what I heard on NPR (National Public Radio), what I read by the New York Times, the Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse, Der Spiegel, etc.) That is how, as if by a tacit entente, the mainstream media traditionally report on these matters. The United States is at the center of the universe, and the rest of the world's countries just orbit around it, much as the planets revolved around the earth not too long ago.

Absent an examination of what came before, what is going on at present, and what may reasonably follow, the mainstream press always favors the immediate—the now. News happens, vacuum packed and hermetically sealed—like bricks of coffee at the supermarket, or medicine vials. And in Juliet Schorr's overworked United States, the pill is swallowed without much time for reflection. Many are just too harried to tarry with trifles such as contextualization any longer than a sound bite, history any deeper than a high-school textbook, or information anymore useful than to give one the instant and ego-boosting gratification that one is informed—however niggardly.

Upon closer inspection, the clichés and commonplaces make themselves readily apparent, and a disturbing, other reality emerges that, in the words of Mark Twain, "taffy is being distributed."

Contextual Factors

Here is how other media in Latin America and around the world reported Bush's Latin American wanderings and adventures. Like Bill O'Reilly likes to say on Fox, "You decide."

While the mainstream media in the United States and Europe were reporting that Chávez had planned his own tour of the region to counter Bush's tour, it turns out that, in fact, according to Ivana Cardinale reporting for Venezuela's left-wing Internet portal Aporrea.org, Venezuela's state television broadcast, and you could actually see spectators at the Ferro Carril Oeste Football Club stadium holding aloft banners that read "Act for the Union of Latin America" and "Welcome to President Chávez," even though you wouldn't know that, that's what it was if you relied on the rest of Venezuela's television stations, all privately owned, and inimical to Chávez. All the other channels referred to it as "marches in repudiation of President Bush's visit." They may have turned into that, but they weren't from their inception. In other words, to borrow a phrase from mathematics, in this case the order of the factors does alter the product—that is, the perception of what has actually happened and what caused it to happen.

The View From Buenos Aires

March 8, two days before Bush had gone to Uruguay to try to negotiate the framework for a bilateral free trade agreement with President Tabaré Vázquez, and Chávez was in Argentina addressing the mass rally in Buenos Aires, it was International Women's Day—a day that brings out thousands, especially the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, the heroic mothers of the disappeared, who in defiance of the military, and later governments all too eager to pardon human rights abusers would parade in mournful silence in front of the Casa Rosada presidential palace, carrying aloft poster-sized photos of their loved ones.

President Néstor Kirchner was the first to hear them.

Early on in his administration, he set out to undo the damage of the previous administrations' pardon laws—first by appointing new judges to Argentina's Supreme Court, firing those who had promulgated the pardon laws, then by repealing the laws and prosecuting those who had committed crimes against humanity under Argentina's ruthless military dictatorship—a process that is ongoing, represents the maturation of Argentine democracy, and gets attention conspicuous for its absence in the papers of record in the United States and much of Europe.

Roger Burbach, director of the Center for the Study of the Americas based in Berkeley, California, reported in the Illinois-based Internet portal Venezuelanalysis.com that even though Kirchner did not take part in the events of the March 8 in Buenos Aires, Chávez's trip to Argentina had come on the heels of a series of commercial and economic accords that Kirchner had just signed with Chávez when Kirchner visited Caracas earlier this year. Foremost among them was the founding of the Bank of the South, which is seen as an alternative to American-dominated institutions like the Inter-American Development Bank or the International Monetary Fund. Here again, the order of the factors does alter the product: Chávez's trip to Argentina, seen in this light, is a logical consequence of the signing of the accords between the two countries, and Kirchner's prior visit to Caracas.

Nowhere in the mainstream media had it been mentioned that Chávez was in Argentina at the invitation of both Kirchner and the leader of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Hebe de Bonafini.

According to Aporrea.org, Kirchner was very grateful to Venezuela for having helped that country weather its economic meltdown in 2001, as well as for their countries' current mutual support.

"We, during the most difficult moments that Argentina underwent, [remember] that the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela was present and is ever present collaborating and aiding, not just a president—a president is a moment in time, history that passes—[but also] a country that is permanent, definitely helping [us] to consolidate an Argentina that possesses absolute potential," Kirchner said.

"For us it is a profound honor that our friend, the president of Venezuela, and our businessmen invest and transfer technology and help bring about a plural economy in Venezuela, as the distinct agreements we enter into with Venezuela are helping to make viable the economic and structural process Argentina is undergoing," Kirchner concluded.

Venezuela purchased Argentine public debt bonds worth billions of dollars in 2005, steeply reducing Argentina's indebtedness to theI.M.F., which helped Argentina pay off its debt ahead of schedule. In January 2006, Kirchner announced the liquidation of all the remaining $9.81 billion debt to theI.M.F., along with Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's similar decision. This move was seen as a means to end the I.M.F.'s control over Argentina and Brazil's economies.

"Shortly afterward," according to the Buenos Aires liberal daily Clarin's international page editor, Hinde Pomeraniec, "the I.M.F. closed its offices at the Central Bank, laid off its personnel and now keeps a skeleton crew at another building in Buenos Aires." [Quoted from an e-mail to the author of this analysis, in response to the question whether it was true the I.M.F. no longer had a branch in Buenos Aires.]

Again, and it bears repeating, none of this was evident from coverage at NPR, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and so on. No. What came first was Chávez trying to pre-empt Bush's Latin American tour—not anything that happened between Argentina and Venezuela dating back, to be economical, to no farther than 2006.

Nowhere in the mainstream press in the United States or Europe is any mention ever made of the burgeoning South American Common Market—MERCOSUR—comprised of founding members Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay, plus Venezuela, whose official incorporation into the group as a full member last year gave it even more standing in Latin America as a rival trade block to the United States' so-far thwarted Free Trade Area of the Americas.

The omission is telling because what with the rise of popularly-elected, progressive governments bent on making a dent on the region's grinding poverty, illiteracy, mortality, woeful human rights situation, disease, violence, and a host of other formidable scourges, it will only get bigger—with Bolivia, for instance, set to join next year, Nicaragua, under the recently-elected Daniel Ortega, Ecuador, with its newly-elected, progressive leader Rafael Correa, and … even Fidel Castro's Cuba.

That was why Castro, before his illness, had traveled last year to Córdoba at the 30th Summit of MERCOSUR, where Venezuela was welcomed into the group, where Cuba and MERCOSUR signed bilateral trade accords, and where Chávez and Castro were greeted like rock stars by thousands of Argentineans.

The signing of a bilateral free trade agreement between Uruguay and the United States—which, incidentally, has not happened yet, despite Bush's visit—must not be seen as a successful wedge driven between MERCOSUR's weaker members and its more robust ones, such as Brazil, Venezuela, and Argentina; nor should the signing of an ethanol agreement between the United States and Brazil lead anyone to believe a new Washington-Brasília axis is being born.

Brazil

Some days before his trip, Spain's centrist LatinReporters.com Internet news portal, reported, "Tom Shannon, assistant secretary for western hemisphere affairs, and Brazil's ambassador to the White House, Antonio Patriota, the week before, had announced the creation of an International Forum on Biofuels including the United States, Brazil, China, India, South Africa, and the European Union. At first, the forum would be a place to exchange information and experiences. It will pour over the creation of international standards for the utilization of biofuels as a partial oil substitute."

"The planetary scope of this initiative," continues the dispatch from LatinReporters.com, "bars its being viewed as explicitly geared to the detriment of President Hugo Chávez's Venezuela, the world's 5th largest exporter of crude and an important purveyor of crude to the U.S.—even though that would probably be one of its byproducts."

At a joint press conference the morning after Chávez's arrival in Buenos Aires on Thursday, reported in Argentina's leftist daily Página 12 , the Venezuelan president was asked what he thought of Bush's Latin American tour. "Nothing [about it] is innocent. It's a plot. They are trying to prevent the birth of a reinvigorated South American Common Market [MERCOSUR]," Chávez commented.

Asked about the possibility of a biofuels agreement between the United States and Brazil, Chávez replied, "To sow so much corn, sugar cane, and soy, not for the consumption of animals and humans, but to sustain the American way of life [sic] would be madness!" he warned. "Bush said that by 2017 they're going to produce the amount of ethanol required to replace nearly 20 percent of the consumption of gasoline. That sounds like it's something very positive. It even sounds environmentalist—green, non-polluting fuels. But let's take another look: In order to produce a million barrels of ethanol, 20 million hectares [50 million acres] of corn have to be sown. We'd be sowing a lot of corn, a lot of sugar cane, and a lot of soy, but not to feed animals or humans, but vehicles to maintain the American way of life [sic]. This planet cannot withstand that."

Elsewhere, commentators pointed out that it would represent a loss of food sovereignty for the poorer countries, as these monocultures would scale back local food production and divert it toward exports.

About Bush's remarks on Latin America's grinding poverty, Chávez shot back, "Bush is only now realizing there is poverty in Latin America? And Christopher Columbus thought he'd discovered India! And he offers up a great plan: $75 million and ship to serve 80,000 patients and carry out 1,500 medical operations. Bush speaks of 75 million as though it were a gigantic figure when just between Havana and Caracas, and in little more than a year and a half, we have carried out already 400,000 medical operations through Misión Milagros [a program comprised of 30,000 Cuban health-sector workers in 71 countries, which has restored or improved the sight of 450,000 people in Latin America and the Caribbean, through free surgery]. And between Argentina and Venezuela, we issued the Bond of the South and secured $1.5 billion for development projects. We should figure out what percentage of the $500 billion the U.S. spends in weapons, in invading countries, or maintaining 20 or 25 nuclear aircraft carriers around the world is represented by those $75 million [a telling 0.015 percent, or one and a half one hundredth of a percent]."

"They have the world militarily occupied. Or what do those 75 million represent out of the millions we have paid in foreign debt servicing for the last 20 years. The debt doesn't decrease, but remains there. Argentina and Venezuela, we have been freeing ourselves from that debt to the I.M.F.. We'll soon not need it; we could even make them a loan (laughter). Now the Fund is in crisis, they're laying-off people … They should apply to themselves their own shock treatment," he concluded, alluding to the austerity measures the I.M.F. imposed on the countries of the region in the 1980's and 1990's.

When reporters sought his opinion on other statements made by President Bush, Chávez had this to say: "Bush said we must complete the revolution Washington and Bolívar started. Did you notice how manipulative he is? He compares [George] Washington to [Simón] Bolívar. Washington was born poor and died rich. Bolívar was born rich and died poor. Washington was the leader of an independence process in support of a slave-owning elite. When he died, he had property and slaves. Bolívar, in contrast, freed the thousands of slaves he inherited and enlisted them in the fight for independence under the banner of liberty, equality, and fraternity [slogan of the French Revolution]. Washington is the symbol of capitalism [he is on the American dollar]. Bolívar is a precursor of socialism. Bush didn't say that because it occurred to him. He doesn't speak for himself, but has advisors that tell him what to say. That he said we must finish the revolutions Washington and Bolívar started is suspect, and that he should say this now, when we have just detained a group of persons suspected of planning yet another political assassination in Caracas. That is most suspect." [Chávez was alluding to the recently foiled plot to assassinate him.]

Chávez would later attend the March 9 rally at Buenos Aires' central Ferro Carril Oeste Football Club stadium, where he spoke for two hours and rebutted Bush's statements point by point, applauded by a crowd of 30,000.

He said Bush was a political corpse that no longer even smelled of sulfur, as he'd said at the United Nations last September, but now smelled like the bodies of the slain American soldiers in Iraq, soldiers who, he reminded spectators, if wounded, languish unattended in military hospitals in the United States.

Chávez said it was not necessary at all for Kirchner and himself to attempt to sabotage Bush's visit, since that little gentleman of the north does so well himself. He repeated what he had said at the press conference the day before, "What, just now Bush has figured out there's poverty in Latin America? And Christopher Columbus thought he'd discovered India!"

The climax was when he asked the crowd in toward which direction was the River Plate that lies between Argentina and Uruguay, where Bush was being received by Vázquez, and bellowed "Gringo, go home!," followed by the crowd who repeated him.

As reported in Buenos Aires' Clarín on March 9, "The day before [Bush's arrival], Brazil's President Lula was staking out his territory, strongly attacking United States and European protectionism in a speech some few hours before Bush's arrival."

"During that speech, President Lula qualified as 'fatal' the effects brought about by U.S. protectionist policies, and called on the advanced nations, among them those comprising the European Union as well, to put an end to agricultural subsidies."

"Lula underlined that 'if there are no agreements to give the planet's poor countries a chance at development, we will not very easily be able to do battle against poverty, and still less terrorism.'"

Tumultuous protests rocked São Paulo, Brazil's main artery, Paulista Avenue, two days before Bush's arrival, where a crowd of an estimated 40,000 protesters, representatives of Brazil's powerful union, the United Workers' Central, the governing Workers' Party, the Landless Movement, the Communist Party of Brazil, trade unionists, workers, retired people, housewives, the handicapped, public school students, and others inundated the downtown, carrying enormous dolls representing "Bushitler," posters with swastikas, photos of Bush with a Hitler moustache, and burning an American flag with skulls for the stars and oil company logos forming the stripes, among other objects, chanting "Yankee, go home," "Genocidal maniac," "Assassin," "Butcher of Iraqis," "You are not welcome," and "Get out, world's No. 1 terrorist!" among other chants. The protesters gathered around three in the afternoon on March 8 at Oswaldo Cruz Square and moved toward the São Paulo Museum of the Arts, about a mile away. The Paulistanos (inhabitants of the city of São Paulo) carried Brazilian flags, Palestinian flags, Communist Party of Brazil flags, the 8th of October Revolutionary Movement flags, and Landless Movement flags, among others.

According to Leonardo Wexell Severo, writing in the Internet portal of the United Workers' Central, police shock troops tried to tarnish the event's shine by firing rubber bullets and tear gas bombs into the crowd that included the disabled and the elderly. There were reports of dozens of people hurt, even though the crowd was able to keep the police at bay.

At the end of the event at the São Paulo Museum of the Arts, after the marchers had stopped the military police, Denise Motta Dau, secretary of the United Workers' Central, said, "Our voices will be heard even louder than the police's bombs or Bush's canons." She denounced the American government's policies that represent "a step back in the women's struggle, whether within the U.S. itself, where it has reduced funding for social programs and promotes the dismantling of the sexual and reproductive rights of women, or in Africa, where it has curtailed assistance to those engaged in the fight against AIDS." She continued, reminding the crowd, "This International Women's Day, we are celebrating the triumphs we've achieved in Brazil, such as Maria da Penha's Law that fights violence against women."

According to Nalu Farias, a participant in the World Women's March, "Our struggle is against war and militarization, uniting and mobilizing the entire planet to defeat neoliberalism, the hypocrisy of the criminalization of abortion and its capitalist, male chauvinist, and racist views."

Lúcia Stumpf of the National Students' Union thought that the demonstrations in São Paulo achieved their aim, "delivering a resounding NO to Bush's belligerent policies that trade blood for oil in Iraq and violates the sovereignty of their people."

"Let him know, in no uncertain terms, that he is not welcome in Brazil, because he's the world's No. 1 terrorist, the enemy of mankind," she said.

The next day, there was another huge protest by the Monument to the Bandeirantes (Standard Bearers)—the Brazilian pioneers of the 18th century that explored the country's interior, and enlarged Brazil to the size it is today—in Ibirapuera Park.

Roger Burbach also wrote that in the days that led up to Bush's Latin American tour, Panama had announced it would not sign a bilateral free trade agreement with Washington that was in the process of being negotiated.

Nicaragua and Venezuela had set up a special commission that would see the implementation of 15 bilateral economic accords, especially in the areas of energy, agriculture, education, and health.

Burbach also pointed out, "A special initiative aimed at alleviating hunger will receive $54 million and $21 million will go to education and building schools. Investments are also being planned to modernize Nicaragua's electric plants, and to refurbish Nicaragua's main international airport, Puerto Cabezas."

A Cautious Uruguay

According to a report on March 10 in Vermelho.org, Internet news portal of the Communist Party of Brazil—and indeed, Brazil does have a communist party with some representatives in that country's legislature—"last month, Uruguay and the U.S. launched a cornerstone trade and investment accord, a first step in a possible [italics mine] bilateral free trade accord."

"The possibility [of the signing of a bilateral free trade accord between Uruguay and the United States]," the dispatch in Vermelho.org continues, "gives rise to different opinions within the Uruguayan government and sparks the ire of other members of MERCOSUR, such as Brazil and Argentina. MERCOSUR forbids the signing of bilateral [trade] accords with countries outside of that trading bloc." Translation: Uruguay is not enticed by the meager incentives and proffers the cornerstone trade and investment agreement out of politeness.

Professor Pedro Brieger is a sociologist with the International Relations Institute at the National University of La Plata in Buenos Aires. Hinde Pomeraniec is a journalist and the editor of the Buenos Aires daily Clarín's international page.

They both host Argentine public television's very lively and informative Saturday roundup of international news—Visión 7 Internacional—on Buenos Aires' channel 7, which is simultaneously broadcast over Telesur and reaches millions throughout Latin America.

During its March 10 broadcast, they reminded viewers that Uruguay's Vázquez has never shied away from proclaiming he is an anti-imperialist—neither recently, on the occasion of Bush's visit, nor as far back as 10 years ago, on the occasion of former President George H. W. Bush visit to Uruguay, when he was mayor of Montevideo, and before he himself was elected president.

The hosts of Visión 7 Internacional also pointed out divergences within Uruguay's governing Frente Amplio or Broad Front party that would halt any consideration on the president's part of signing a bilateral trade accord with the United States, such as the problem of the berries (Washington refuses to lift tariffs on their export to the United States from Uruguay), and voluble opposition of members of the Broad Front like senator and current minister of social development in the government of President Vázquez, Marina Arismendi, and also the secretary general since 1998 of the Communist Party of Uruguay, one of the parties comprising the ruling Broad Front, who, on the heels of Bush's visit publicly called him "an execrable assassin."

Pedro Brieger also wondered aloud why an editorial in the New York Times, while correctly pointing out that Kennedy's Alliance for Progress had come about as a response by the United States to the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, would nevertheless claim that the years of the Alliance for Progress were some of the best in the United States' relations with Latin America, when in fact the Alliance for Progress in the 1960's and 1970's was behind a great many military putsches in Latin America, and when, in a historical paradox, the president of the United States is visiting a Uruguay where precisely Tupamaro guerrillas had kidnapped and executed a functionary of the Alliance for Progress in 1970, Dan Mitrione, who had, among other things, taught the military in Uruguay and Brazil in perfecting themselves in the arts of torture.

"There's a very well-known film by [Greek director] Costa-Gavras, State of Siege, [loosely based on Mitrione's kidnapping]. So it's very strange the view from the New York Times or President Bush himself with respect to their country's own history of relations with Latin America," Brieger added.

There was much opposition to Bush's visit to Uruguay. According to Vermelho.org, México's left-wing daily La Jornada, and Argentina's daily Clarín, among others, it is estimated that more than 25,000 people took to the streets of Montevideo, chanting "Bush go home," "Public enemy No. 1," "No to imperialism!" and sporting T-shirts emblazoned with "Bushitler." Protesters also sent a message to Vázquez not to sign any trade agreement with the United States. Only 17 people were arrested, mostly for throwing rocks at the police and breaking store windows along 18th of July Avenue, downtown Montevideo's main drag.

Near Colonia, 200 kilometers from Montevideo, more than 200 militants from radical unions and the far left participated in a march, but were halted by the police scarcely 5 kilometers from Vázquez's Anchorena retreat, where Bush was received on Saturday, March 10, by his host.

Colombia

The Guardian of London's Isabel Hilton reported on March 8 that on the eve of Bush's visit to Latin America, Bush's best friend in the region, Colombia's President Álvaro Uribe, was becoming his biggest embarrassment. "Uribe," Hilton wrote, "is mired in corruption, violence, and drugs—the source of 90 percent of the cocaine in the U.S.—and where critics of the government receive death threats and drug barons and death squad leaders win amnesty."

Colombia is also the largest recipient of American military aid—ostensibly for help in the war on drug trafficking, but in reality to support the drug traffickers who are the right-wing, paramilitary death squads, against the insurgent leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

"The paramilitary forces," Hilton reported, "were formed in the 1980's to fight the leftist guerrillas. They soon became as notorious for massacres … [and narcotics trafficking]; they robbed Colombia's peasants of millions of acres of land, creating 3 million internally displaced victims. Since their rise in Antioquia, the province where Uribe was governor, the paramilitary have been suspected of collaboration with state security forces. The president denies that they enjoyed political protection and claims amnesty is open to all."

"But now," continued Hilton, "stimulated by the determination of Colombia's Supreme Court to investigate the country's dark underbelly, evidence of collaboration between paramilitary death squads and the Administrative Security Department (D.A.S.), the president's intelligence service, has seen key members of Uribe's political apparatus resign, disgraced, or placed under arrest. An emboldened Colombian press is now demanding to know what the president knew."

"Uribe's troubles," the report in the Guardian elaborated, "began last year when a computer was seized from a paramilitary leader known as 'Jorge 40.' On it were the names of politicians who apparently collaborated with Jorge 40 to intimidate voters, seize land, and kidnap or kill trade unionists and political rivals. Jorge 40 is the nom de guerre of Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, leader of the Northern Bloc of the United Self-Defense forces of Colombia (A.U.C.), a paramilitary umbrella group set up in 1997 and categorized by the U.S. as a terrorist organization. Tovar controlled drug trafficking in the eastern half of Colombia's Caribbean coast. Since then, eight pro-Uribe congressmen have been arrested and the foreign minister has been forced to resign."

In Colombia, It Only Gets Better …

According to Hilton's report in the Guardian, "The most dangerous scandal for Uribe comes from the arrest of Jorge Noguera, his former campaign manager and, from 2002 to 2005, head of the Administrative Security Department. Former colleagues have told investigators of Noguera's close collaboration with Jorge 40—which included lending him Uribe's personal armored vehicle—and with other paramilitary leaders. The accusations include an assassination plot against Venezuela's President Chávez, the murder of political opponents, electoral fraud, and doctoring police and judicial records to erase paramilitary cases. Noguera worked directly with Uribe and when the investigations began, the president appointed him consul to Milan. The supreme court has forced his return."

Writing for México's left of center La Jornada on March 13, Pedro Miguel described Bush's welcome in Bogotá: "It was a pretty ceremony, with a red carpet at the foot of Air Force One's ramp and a wall of guards on both sides donning ceremonial uniforms and armed with antique rifles. But the rifles were ornamental, and before Bush's arrival, every one of the members of the honor guard were minutely scanned with metal detectors and manually frisked by members of the U.S. Secret Service. That is the actual degree of the White House's trust in the Nariño Palace, and the extent of Uribe's servility."

In Guatemala, the Gods Are Mad as Hell

Following the Bush's visit to the Iximché archeological site—ancient capital of the Mayan Cakchiquele Indians and headquarters of Pedro de Alvarado during the Spanish conquest in 1524—indigenous priests carried out a religious ceremony replete with votive candles and incense to cleanse the area of evil spirits and so that their ancestors may rest in peace.

"That somebody like him, with his persecution of our brother immigrant workers, with the wars he has unleashed, should walk on our sacred lands is an affront to the Mayan people and their culture," said Juan Tiney, director of a Mayan nongovernmental organization with close ties to Mayan religious leaders last Thursday.

Chávez had already gone beyond merely ascribing evil exhalations to Bush at the United Nations last September, speaking to the General Assembly the day after Bush had addressed it. "The devil was here! The devil was here before this very podium," Chávez remarked, while crossing himself—to the general laughter of those assembled—and underlined, " It still reeks of sulfur!"

Insurgent México

As was reported in Mexico's Milenio magazine on March 10, President Felipe Calderón said Mexico seeks to play a leadership role that fosters stability in Latin America, but that does not mean it will ally itself with Bush in order to stave off Chávez's increasing influence.

He told reporters, "I'm not interested in playing a role with President Bush in this matter."

"Mexico plays a natural leadership role in Latin America that my government will embrace, is embracing and reclaiming that role, independent of what may or may not be the U.S.'s foreign policy toward Latin America," he said.

Calderón, in the same interview granted to the Associated Press aboard the presidential plane overflying Chiapas, and which was carried in Milenio on March 10, commented, "[The United States] has a lot to do if it wants regain a presence and respect in the region."

Aida Marina of Mexico's Alternativa party, commenting in the March 13 online edition of Proceso said Bush had "arrived without clear ideas, a plan, in an unprecedentedly vulnerable state following his electoral defeat," and added, "Instead of being received by Felipe Calderón, he should have been welcomed by Vicente Fox, so he'd feel more at home with another retiree."

Another commentator, this time from the United States, wrote that Bush's lonely odyssey through Latin America in search of a friendly face reminded him of Diogenes and his lantern.

At any rate, Bush's Latin American whirlwind tour does not seem to have succeeded at dimming, much less blocking, Chávez's, MERCOSUR's or, for that matter, Latin America's sun.

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