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New Orleans Prepares for North American Summit


President Bush will welcome his two North American counterparts to New Orleans for a two-day summit that will include discussions of immigration, trade and other issues of mutual concern. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from New Orleans, the city, which is still recovering from 2005's Hurricane Katrina, is preparing a big welcome.

In the city that invented jazz there will be no lack of music for the three North American leaders and Mary Beth Romig of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau says event planners have tried to provide a showcase for the city's various attractions.

"Everything has a New Orleans touch to it, from the airport welcome, where the Preservation Hall Jazz band will be playing, to a private state dinner that night where some of our best jazz musicians will be playing, and, of course, they will be served some of the best New Orleans food, so they will hear New Orleans, they will taste New Orleans and they will see New Orleans," she said.

Romig says both Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon and their official delegations will have the opportunity to visit parts of the city outside the sites where the summit meetings will take place. She says President Calderon, in particular, will be active, re-opening a consulate here that was closed in 2002.

"The president of Mexico is really going to be busy while he is here," she said. "They are going to be cutting the ribbon on the Mexican consulate Monday afternoon, which is very exciting, and then a little later that afternoon he is going to the Children's Museum in the Warehouse District and actually cut the ribbon on a Mexican toy exhibition that is opening on Monday."

The Mexican consulate here had been one of the two oldest consulates Mexico had in the United States before it was closed in a cost-cutting effort in 2002. Much of the rebuilding work carried out in New Orleans following Katrina has been done by immigrants from Mexico and other parts of Latin America and there are now around 30,000 Mexicans living in and around the city.

In the summit sessions, President Calderon is expected to bring up the subject of immigration, arguing for a more open U.S. immigration system in which workers from his country could come here with temporary visas. President Bush has backed such a plan, but opponents have blocked the reform, saying that there should be better enforcement of immigration law at the border first and that no one who entered the country illegally should be rewarded for doing so.

The treaty that binds the United States, Canada and Mexico together as trading partners is the 15-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, usually called NAFTA in English. In this presidential election year, the two remaining candidates for the Democratic nomination, Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, have criticized the agreement and called for changes. But Bush administration officials have defended the pact, calling it a success that is expected to generate $1 trillion in three-way trade this year.

Various protest groups are planning demonstrations in the streets of New Orleans near the summit site on Monday and Tuesday. Leftist groups plan to protest the Iraq war and what they describe as unfair trade policies that have created poverty in Mexico and undermined workers in the United States and Canada. Some right-wing groups plan to protest what they see as an effort by the three leaders to create a continental government, modeled on the European Union, that would, in their view, undermine US sovereignty.

New Orleans police officials say they welcome peaceful protests, but that they will not tolerate violence or any other illegal activity.

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