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Latin Americans Rally Against Iraq War

In Latin America, the war in Iraq has ignited anti-American protests and renewed fears of a powerful northern neighbor who some believe already exerts too much influence over smaller, less developed nations.

But, many people in the region also hope the war will end quickly so as to avoid economic repercussions on their countries.

From Santiago and Sao Paulo to Mexico City, protesters have taken to the streets in the past few days to denounce the United States for its war in Iraq. Political commentators and newspaper columnists across the region have condemned the military action as illegal.

One group of legislators in the capital of Brasilia called for boycotts of U.S. products like Coca Cola and McDonald's hamburgers to protest the war and then chanted an anti-war statement in unison.

Meanwhile, Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva condemned the U.S. led war in Iraq, saying that the effort to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction did not, in his words, "give the United States the right to decide unilaterally what is good and what is bad for the world."

This point of view was echoed in statements by other regional leaders including some who have been seen as friendly toward the United States. Mexican President Vicente Fox says that his country shares many values, goals and proposals with the United States, Great Britain and Spain, but that he cannot agree with those countries on the issue of war. He says all diplomatic efforts to find a solution should have been exhausted before undertaking military action.

Still, most political observers in Latin America expect little damage to U.S. relations with countries in the region as a result of the war, partly because it is in a faraway region that has little impact on the Americas. They note that trade ties to the United States and other areas of cooperation are far more important to people here.

Most of the Latin American protesters have been the same people seen at other demonstrations, opposing globalization, the U.S. war against terrorism, or focusing on any number of local issues. In Mexico City Friday, some 400 peasant farmers marched to the U.S. embassy to condemn the war. Many of them have been on the streets in recent months condemning the North American Free Trade Agreement as unfair to small farm operations.

According to public opinion polls, the average Latin American citizen is against the war, but not motivated to do much about it. Here in Brazil, for example, the call to boycott Coca Cola and McDonald's does not seem to have had much impact. People can be seen eating hamburgers and drinking cokes at the many McDonald's restaurants in Rio de Janeiro and shopping areas are crowded with people who seemed little concerned about the conflict on the other side of the world.