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Bush Defends Latam Policy in Brazil


President Bush says his administration has not ignored Latin America, and says his tour of the region was not designed to counter the anti-American rhetoric of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. VOA White House Correspondent Paula Wolfson has more on the story from Sao Paulo Brazil.

The White House calls this a goodwill tour, and says the president wants to keep the focus on the positive.

But during a news conference in Sao Paulo with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Mr. Bush faced some tough questioning. One reporter from Brazil, voicing the sentiment of many analysts in the region, asked the president why the United States has turned its back on Latin America since Washington began the fight against terrorism.

President Bush denied he has ignored the region.

"That may be what people say, but it certainly is not what the facts bear out," said Mr. Bush.

He said U.S. aid to the region has roughly doubled since he took office. Critics charge most of the money has gone to counter-narcotics efforts, particularly in Colombia, which remains the biggest U.S. aid recipient in Latin America. But the president stressed that funding to help the poor and the disenfranchised remains a priority.

"I fully recognize that money alone is not a sign of compassion or care, but it is money aimed at helping people improve their lives," he added. "It is social justice money."

Mr. Bush will be highlighting several such programs over the remainder of his Latin American tour -- visiting farm cooperatives, youth centers, heath clinics, and projects highlighting the indigenous cultures of the region.

At each of his stops, he is expected to point to the family ties between the United States and its neighbors to the south.

"Think about this," he said. "There are millions of people living in our country from the region. The United States is a multicultural society. We have got people from all over South and Central America living in the United States."

His welcome from Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was warm. But there were also scattered protests in Sao Paulo during Mr. Bush's visit. Meanwhile, anti-American activists were gathering in Argentina for a rally headlined by Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez.

When asked if he came to Latin America to counter the Venezuelan leader, President Bush chose his words carefully. He responded without ever mentioning Hugo Chavez's name.

"I bring the goodwill of the United States to South America and Central America," he explained. "That is why I am here."

His stop in Brazil also gave the president an opportunity to draw attention to his push for alternative fuels. The United States and Brazil, the two largest ethanol producers in the world, signed an agreement during his visit to promote biofuel production and technology. But Mr. Bush did not offer support for one key Brazilian demand: repeal of the current U.S. tariff on ethanol imports. He did agree, however, to join Brazil in a new push to restart world trade talks that broke down largely because of disagreements on agricultural subsidies.

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