President Bush has embarked on a week-long
tour of Latin America. VOA White House correspondent Paula Wolfson sets
the scene for the trip from his first stop, Sao Paulo,
President Bush came to office with a vow to make Latin America a policy
"Our hemisphere is not going to be an afterthought for this administration," he
said. "One of the most important parts of our foreign policy will be to
promote prosperity and peace and freedom throughout this hemisphere."
But everything changed on September 11, 2001, when terrorists struck
the United States. Fighting terrorism soared to the top of the Bush
administration agenda, along with promoting democracy in the Middle East.
Latin America was overshadowed by news of war and bloodshed, and some to
the south began to believe they were being ignored.
"Generally speaking, the United States is not viewed with the
confidence it once was," said Peter Hakim, who heads a group called the
Inter-American Dialogue, a private organization set up to foster
"I have not seen in the region, and I travel there quite a bit, as much
anti-U.S. sentiment across the region and it is very pervasive," he added.
White House aides say President Bush is making this trip in an effort
to persuade America's neighbors to the South that he does care about their
At a recent Washington address, the president indicated the journey
will highlight, if not a policy shift, at least a change in focus.
"The working poor of Latin America need change, and the United States
of America is committed to that change," added Mr. Bush.
Mr. Bush will spend a lot of his time visiting programs that help the
poor and the disenfranchised. Instead of devoting most of his public
comments to issues like free trade and counter-narcotics, he will use this
trip to showcase his willingness to help the democracies of the region
meet the basic needs of their people: education, health care and housing.
Cynthia Arnson is director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow
Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. She says the Bush
administration has realized that too many people in the region feel the
move to democracy and free markets has done little if anything to improve
"It is a recognition at the highest levels of the U.S. government that
there are other issues at play in the hemisphere than the ones the United
States has traditionally focused on," she noted.
Arnson says the lack of progress has enabled a new political left to
take hold in Latin America. And no one exemplifies that new left better
than the anti-American president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez.
"I think it is true that there is probably no issue that serves as a
common denominator defining today's left in the region more than the
desire to address the massive poverty and social injustice that exists in
various degrees of severity throughout Latin America," she added.
The White House denies the president is going to Latin America to
counter Hugo Chavez, and US officials say they expect little mention of
the Venezuelan leader in Mr. Bush's public comments.
What they do expect is an emphasis on the positive, as President Bush
stops at youth centers, visits farm cooperatives, and pays homage to the
region's indigenous culture.
His travels will take him from Brazil to Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala
and Mexico for meetings with presidents from the political left to the
right of center.
The aim may well be to show that Mr. Bush is willing to work with any
hemispheric leader who believes in, what he calls, good governance. That
amounts to a belief in democracy and free markets combined with a strong
desire to make sure the benefits reach all members of society, not just a