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Bush Visit Met by Violent Protests in Region

GUATEMALA CITY – More than 5,000 Guatemalans protested Monday in the capital city and in the western province of Chimaltenango against the visit of U.S. President George W. Bush. The protest was similar to the ones that met Bush this week in Brazil, Uruguay and Colombia as part of his five-country visit that concluded at press time in Mexico City.

In Guatemala, Bush’s penultimate stop, some 2,000 campesinos, indigenous, students and union members burned an effigy of the U.S. leader and chanted “Bush out,” as police kept the protesters 200 meters away from the National Palace of Culture, where Guatemalan President Oscar Berger was to receive his U.S. counterpart. Elsewhere, near the Maya ruins of Iximche in Chimaltenango, some 3,000 indigenous citizens also protested Bush’s visit.

“We repudiate Bush’s visit to Guatemala,” said the Maya National Coordinating and Convergence Committee in a statement.

“His coming to the sacred earth of Iximche and other Maya communities is an offense and an insult to the Maya people for the part this gentleman plays in wars and death in the world and his responsibility for the genocide in Guatemala.”

Indigenous leader Juan Tiney said that Maya priests will perform a ceremony to “purify” the ruins after Bush leaves.

Accompanied on Monday by President Berger, Bush visited Iximche, a school and a cooperative in Chimaltenango, and later returned to the capital for the official welcome in the Palace of Culture.

According to the Maya National Coordinating and Convergence Committee, “it seems incomprehensible and very contradictory for the Maya people that the President of a country that claims to be democratic spends billions of dollars on war,” sums of money the group said “would be enough to eradicate infant malnutrition and a host of curable diseases in Latin America.”

Prior to visiting Guatemala, on March 11 in Colombia, Bush expressed his unequivocal support for Colombian counterpart Alvaro Uribe, who is going through a difficult period politically as a result of the socalled “parapolitics” scandal over allied legislators’ ties to ultra-rightist paramilitaries.

Earlier, the White House had made clear that the reason for the seven-hour stop in Colombia was to express U.S. support for the government of Uribe, Washington, D.C.’s main ally in Latin America. Bush was very careful in his statements on the subject, seeming to choose each of his words with great care.

Uribe is a leader whom he is proud to call a friend and strategic ally, Bush said, adding that “I appreciate the President’s determination to bring human-rights violators to justice.”

Bush also said that he is working intensely to get U.S. congressional approval for both the extension of Plan Colombia – which would provide Colombia with some $700 million in aid this year – and the bilateral free-trade treaty.

The new Democratic majority in the U.S. Congress is delaying approval of the freetrade pact by demanding more rights for workers, and opposition lawmakers have expressed their doubts about Plan Colombia as it is configured.

The United States thus far has provided some $3.5 billion to Colombia since Plan Colombia – largely a military-based antidrug trafficking plan – entered into effect in 2000. Over the same period, $717 million in U.S. aid for Colombian social projects has been approved.

About 100 followers of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez on Sunday blocked the international bridge between Colombia and Venezuela to protest Bush’s visit to Bogota. Chávez, meanwhile, organized his own tour of Latin America this week, allegedly to counter Bush’s efforts in the region (see separate story).

Bogota Metropolitan Police on Sunday arrested at least 35 of the 2,000 people who were protesting Bush’s visit; one policeman and one demonstrator were injured and several photographers were hit by stones thrown by the protesters at riot police.

Police said that some of the troublemakers tried to “take over” the Transmilenio public transport network station in an area where they destroyed several businesses and bank branches.More than 20 U.S. flags were burned in the La Macarena Plaza in central Bogota. Riot police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the protestors.

On March 9, in Brazil, Bush signed an ethanol accord with Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and said he was committed to the success of the Doha round of international trade talks.

In a press conference in Sao Paulo, the first stop on Bush’s Latin American tour, the two Presidents said that if the United States and Brazil show they are willing to work together toward that goal many other countries in the World Trade Organization (WTO) will follow suit.

The success of the Doha talks is crucial because trade is the “most effective antipoverty program,” Bush said.

The July 2006 Doha trade talks in Geneva, the headquarters of the WTO, collapsed due to strong disagreement between the United States and the European Union on one side and developing nations on the other.

The developing nations – led by Brazil, India, China and South Africa – demand that developed nations drastically slash the huge agricultural subsidies they pay to their farmers, while the United States and European Union want developing countries to show more flexibility with regard to opening their markets for services.

The press conference on Doha came a few hours after the signing of a pact to cooperate on promoting the production and use of biofuels in Brazil and the United States as well as in Central America and the Caribbean.

In a joint statement at a biofuel depot outside Sao Paulo, the two heads of state said the accord, signed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, is ambitious and good for the environment.

“Anything we can do to reduce (greenhouse gas) emissions will be something won,” Brazil’s leader said.

Lula said that the pact will allow the technology to be developed in such a way that ethanol can be obtained “without affecting the food supply or damaging rainforests.”

The agreement will allow the coordination of Brazil and the United States to establish international standards for biofuels so they can be traded on international markets.

Both countries will also encourage production of this fuel in Central American and Caribbean countries, in order to meet the world’s growing need for this alternative energy source.

Brazil is the world’s leading producer of biofuels, making 18 billion liters of ethanol per year from sugar cane.



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