President Bush says the United States remains committed to promoting justice and prosperity in Latin America, and is backing its words with actions and aid. Mr. Bush met with Uruguay's president at the White House at a time when the voices of populism and economic nationalism appear to be growing stronger in parts of the hemisphere.
President Bush said he discussed a wide range of subjects with his Uruguayan counterpart, Tabare Vazquez, from expanding student exchanges to promoting renewable sources of energy.
"We talked about extending our commercial relations," said President Bush. "I shared some thoughts with the president about my deep desire to help countries become free so that this world is more peaceful."
The two leaders sat side-by-side in the Oval office at the conclusion of an hour-long meeting. President Vazquez echoed Mr. Bush's call for stronger bilateral trade relations. But he made no mention of stalled negotiations for the U.S.-backed Free Trade Area of the Americas, which Uruguay and other South American nations have criticized as likely to provide unfair advantages to heavily subsidized U.S. agricultural producers.
Instead, Mr. Vazquez delivered a message to his people. "To the Uruguayans who are watching, I want to say that we can work together so that all Uruguayans can live better. We can expand education, improve health care, and generate jobs with adequate salaries," he said.
The tone employed by the moderate, center-left Mr. Vazquez contrasts sharply with that of Venezuelan socialist firebrand Hugo Chavez, who has accused President Bush of exporting imperialism and planning to invade his country, and Bolivian populist Evo Morales, who recently nationalized his country's vast natural gas operations. While relations have cooled considerably between the United States and Venezuela, President Vasquez, like President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, are regarded as pragmatic left-of-center leaders with whom the United States has been able to forge a productive relationship.
Nevertheless, White House spokesman Scott McClellan was asked if Venezuela and Bolivia constitute a "growing cancer" that is tilting Latin America toward an anti-U.S. stance.
"There are many countries in this hemisphere that are committed to moving forward on democracy, good governance and rule of law," said Scott McClellan. "Those are values and principles that most of this hemisphere shares, and our relations will continue to strengthen with those who are committed to the principles that we hold dear."
McClellan added that Presidents Bush and Vazquez affirmed their shared commitment to freedom and democracy during their discussions.
Later, President Bush participated in a White House event commemorating Mexico's "Cinco de Mayo" [May 5th] festivities. With Mexico's ambassador to Washington in attendance, Mr. Bush noted the fierce debate gripping the United States over illegal immigration. The president said the United States and Mexico are bound by ties of history, family, commerce, culture and values. He said Mexican-Americans have made valuable contributions to the United States, and that, when it comes to immigration, the United States does not have to choose between being a compassionate society and a lawful society.