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Bush heads to Mexico for Americas summit
( 2004-01-12 16:22) (Agencies)

U.S. President George W. Bush goes south of the Rio Grande for an Americas-wide summit on Monday trying to win friends in an increasingly troublesome region.

Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox are likely to bury the hatchet after differences over Iraq last year, and declare themselves close "amigos" once again.

Bush's proposal last week to grant temporary work permits to millions of mostly Mexican illegal workers in the United States has endeared the U.S. leader to the Mexican government.

But countries farther south -- notably Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil -- are at serious odds with Washington over trade, foreign debt and democracy.

Leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez accused the United States on Sunday of plotting his overthrow. Chavez earlier this weekend called a key Bush aide an "illiterate."

Several Latin American nations, worried about strong U.S. influence in the region, were blocking U.S. proposals to push trade issues and tough sanctions against corruption onto the agenda of the Summit of the Americas, which starts on Monday in the northern Mexican city of Monterrey.

They insisted the two-day gathering stick to the issues it was originally called to discuss -- poverty, economic and social development and democracy.

"There's a lot of opposition," a senior Latin American delegate said. "The summit is about reducing poverty and strengthening democracy. We shouldn't allow it to lose that focus."


As he seeks support from Hispanic voters for his re-election bid this year, Bush is wooing Latin America after largely ignoring the region for more than two years as he focused on Iraq, Afghanistan and national security following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Political analysts see the region as a place where Bush, who speaks some Spanish, can prove he is capable of winning allies after upsetting some U.S. friends abroad during the Iraq war.

"The Summit of the Americas is seen as an opportunity to reestablish our multilateralist credentials," said Miguel Diaz of the CSIS think tank in Washington.

Bush is scheduled to meet one of his main critics in the region, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, on Monday night.

Brazil retaliated last week for U.S. anti-terror measures at airports, requiring that American citizens entering the country be fingerprinted and photographed.

Differences between the two countries have cast doubts on the chances of a Western Hemisphere free trade pact being agreed on by January, 2005 as first planned.

Canada's new prime minister, Paul Martin, said on Sunday it was unlikely the deadline could now be met.

"That's a bit optimistic. I think it's a shame," he said.

Hundreds of anti-U.S. protesters took to the streets of Monterrey, Mexico's industrial hub, on Sunday for the first of several planned marches.

"We reject the interests of Yankee imperialism. The summit is the first step toward building a new empire in the Americas with Bush's policies," teacher Carlos Campos, 48, said at the demonstration.

Venezuela's Chavez, the most virulent U.S. rival in Latin America behind Cuba's Fidel Castro (news - web sites), said on Sunday that Washington was preparing his ouster either through a coup or an assassin's bullet.

Chavez, who survived a coup bid in 2002 that the United States was slow to condemn, on Saturday called U.S. national security advisor Condoleezza Rice "a real illiterate."

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