Montevideo, Uruguay (venezuelanalysis.com)-- President Bush may have gotten good at evading questions, but on this week's five-country Latin American tour, it's becoming more difficult and much more blatant.
President George W. Bush once again dodged questions about hemispheric political divisions and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez yesterday during a joint press conference held by him and his Uruguayan counter-part, Tabaré Vasquez, following an hour-long meeting between the two heads of state at Uruguay's presidential estancia, Anchorena.
"Hugo Chavez suggested that you are afraid to mention his name," asked a U.S. journalist yesterday, "so are you? and how much of a threat is he to United States interests in the hemisphere?"
Rather than respond or decline to answer, Bush changed the subject.
"To South America and Central America to advance a positive constructive diplomacy that's being conducted by my government on behalf of the American people," Bush began, "My message to the people in our neighborhood is that we care about the human condition and that we believe the human condition can be improved in a variety of ways. One, investment and so the question is how can we have constructive dialogue with our neighbors as to how to spread the benefits of investment."
Bush stated that he is also "reminding people that the US taxpayer is most generous, when it comes to bilateral aid." According to the President bilateral aid to Latin American has doubled under his Presidency to $1.6 billion annually, "and most of the money is aimed at social justice programs, programs like education and health care."
"And so the trip is a statement of the desire to work together with people in our neighborhood," Bush continued, "I've been to Central and South America a lot since I've been the president, because I fully understand that a prosperous neighborhood is in the interest of the United States of America. I would call our diplomacy quiet and effective diplomacy. Diplomacy all aimed at helping people. Aimed at elevating the human condition. Aimed at expressing the great compassion of the American people."
Journalist Maria Jose Pino from Uruguay Television asked President Bush, "Taking in to account, the regional context in which we find ourselves, governed by leaders such as Vasquez, Lula, Kirchner, Hugo Chavez, Morales, and Bachelet, what differences and similarities do you find among them, and what is your opinion of Vasquez and Uruguay?"
George Bush- who by his answer appeared to have missed the first half of the question -responded, "the temptation is to try to get people to talk about their differences. I want to talk about our commonalities. We share respect for each other. We respect our countries. We respect our histories and traditions and we share respect for a government where the people decide who's in charge. Interestingly enough, we both have gotten rid of colonial powers in our past and I think it's that heritage that makes Uruguay and the United States such natural partners."
"We talk about the need to invest and grow economies through investment," Bush continued. "That's common ground that leads to a positive relationship. We both recognize that education is vital for the success of our respective countries."
Bush also commented on Uruguay's status as the leading exporter of software in South America. "Often times when you think of a country like Uruguay, you think of natural resources, you think of fantastic farms, a lot of cows, lambs, blueberries -which by the way came up today in our conversation. But I think it is hopeful for both of our countries to know that a friend is the leading exporter of something that requires the brain-power of it's citizens, and so we find common ground there as to how to work together. I would call this meeting very constructive and very hopeful and very positive, and the reason why is because we've got so much in common. There's a lot more that unites us than divides us," responded Bush.
It is difficult to say whether Bush's decision to dodge political questions on Hugo Chavez and Latin America, is based on an attempt to monopolize the debate of North America's aid to Latin America, or for fear over the security of the U.S. President in a region which is not necessary friendly.
Protests have followed Bush on his first two stops, across Brazil, and on Friday night in Montevideo where thousands marched against his visit, his foreign policy and U.S support for the repressive Uruguayan military dictatorship of the 1970s-1980s. Protests are planned to greet Bush in Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico, the next three countries he will be visiting on this week's tour.
Meanwhile, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez began his own tour on Friday night, just across the Rio Plata from Uruguay, in an event entitled, "For Latin American Unity, Welcome Commander Chavez, get out imperialism Bush" at the Ferrocarril Oeste stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Before tens of thousands, Chavez called Bush a "political cadaver."
"He (Bush) looks like he's afraid to say my name," Chavez commented.
"Today they asked him in Brasilia, in a press conference," said Chavez on Friday, "I saw it in my hotel, I was watching and a journalist asked him: Look, they say that you are here to block the advance of Chavez in South America. He (Bush) looks like it gives him tachycardia when they say the name Chavez, because I saw... he lowered his head, stuttered a couple of times and responded something else; he didn't respond the question at all. So he won't dare, I will, I will dare... and I think he owes us."
Bush left Uruguay this morning for Colombia, where he will be meeting with President Alvaro Uribe. Colombia receives the third largest amount of US military aid of any country in the world, after Israel and Egypt, ostensibly to fight Narco-trafficking under Plan Colombia.
Chavez is also continuing on his counter-Bush tour. He met President Evo Morales in Trinidad, Bolivia yesterday, a region which has been affected by torrential rains and large floods.