Thousands of Uruguayans took to the streets of Montevideo to protest President Bush's arrival in their country late Friday. VOA's Michael Bowman reports from the Uruguayan capital, where Mr. Bush is making the second stop in a five-nation tour of Latin America aimed at strengthening diplomatic and economic ties with the region.
Protesters chanted, beat drums, set off firecrackers and burned effigies of President Bush along Montevideo's main avenue. Labor leaders read vitriol-laden speeches denouncing Mr. Bush, the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and what they termed U.S. "imperialism."
Near the front of the crowd was shoe salesman Jose Ramirez, who said Mr. Bush bears responsibility for atrocities in Iraq and other parts of the world. "The Uruguayan people have traditionally rejected imperialism and genocide. And it seems very correct for us to come and express how we feel," he said.
Elsewhere in the crowd, Brazilian-born Marta Silva, a registered nurse, said she is offended by the Bush administration's plan to stem the flow of illegal aliens to the United States.
"I really hate President Bush who is doing so much harm with the wall he wants to build between Mexico and the United States. It is a wall that goes against all human rights and will only bring death," she said.
Sitting next to Marta Silva was her friend, Silvia Mauro, who said there is something the U.S. public should know. "We have nothing against the American people. Our anger is against those who conduct U.S. foreign policy. A policy of war," she said.
The protest began peacefully, but was later marred by several incidents of vandalism.
President Bush is to meet with his Uruguayan counterpart, Tabare Vazquez, in the picturesque town of Colonia Saturday. Mr. Vazquez has said he wants to secure better access to the U.S. market for Uruguayan goods, such as beef and textiles, but in no way endorses U.S. actions on the world stage.
A recent poll of Uruguayans showed broad antipathy towards President Bush, but overall support for increased commerce with the United States. For his part, Mr. Bush has announced a boost in U.S. aid to Latin America, and expressed a desire for an eventual free trade accord with Uruguay.
Standing one block away from the anti-Bush demonstration was retired cattle rancher Raul Maldonado, who said he has no reason to protest the U.S. leader's arrival. "I think that Uruguay, as a small country, needs to be visited by big countries. We have to sell our products. We have to be able to sell our beef, which is our primary product. Beyond that, I do not agree with Bush's policies towards other countries. But those other countries are not Uruguay," he said.
President Bush's Latin American tour began with a stop in Sao Paulo, Brazil. From Uruguay, he heads to Colombia, then Guatemala and Mexico.