Latin leaders are reluctant to advance on a free trade area
US President George W. Bush arrived in Mar del Plata, Argentina, on Thursday night to attend to the Fourth Summit of the Americas with a clear objective: to revive the long standing plans to create a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). However, the FTAA, or ALCA as it is known by its initials in Spanish, has been openly criticised by leaders from countries as Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela, who will meet Bush in the Summit, as well as by unions, social and political organizations from all over the region.
As such, President Bush and 33 other Western Hemisphere leaders will begin summit deliberations on Friday at this seaside resort amid massive security preparations that underscore Bush's unpopularity across Latin America. There, Bush's collaborators are facing the tough opposition of their Latin American counterparts to include the FTAA in the final declaration, which presidents are expected to sign on Saturday afternoon.
"I strongly believe that we have a great opportunity to deal with job creation or poverty by putting a system in place that encourages economic growth and entrepreneurship," Bush said in an interview with reporters from the region before his departure. He arrived in Argentina with his wife, Laura (photo).
The streets outside the five-star hotel where the leaders will meet are likely to be active during the two-day summit. Argentine authorities are bracing for an estimated 50,000 visitors, some of whom are coming for a Peoples Summit at a soccer stadium not far from the summit site. Many will be drawn there by former Argentine soccer star turned TV personality Diego Maradona. He was planning to make the 250-mile trip from Buenos Aires to Mar del Plata, a city of 600,000, accompanied by a trainload of summit protesters.
The train arrived in Mar del Plata on Friday morning carrying 150 personalities aiming to protest Bush, including, apart from Maradona, celebrities as the Yugoslavian filmmaker Emir Kusturica, social leaders as the Argentine Peace Nobel Prize, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, and politicians as the Bolivian front-runner in that country's presidential election next month, Evo Morales.
Many protesters are coming to demand an end to free trade and globalization, reprising a theme that has inspired mass demonstrations at international summits and other high-profile events around the world since 1999. But the level of anger over the war in Iraq could add energy and passion to the protests.
"Iraq pollutes everything," said Manuel Mora y Araujo, a prominent Argentine pollster. "It produces an image of arrogance."
Once in Mar del Plata, protesers are expected to be joined at a demonstration in Mar del Plata by families of soldiers killed in Iraq. There, all of them will attend to a concert where the Cuban singer Silvio Rodriguez will anticipate the vivid anti-Bush rhetoric of the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who will attend to both the Summit and the anti-Summit of the Americas.