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Merida, Mexico Will be Last Stop of Bush's Latin America Tour


Merida, Mexico, is the last stop on President Bush's tour of Latin America. There he will meet with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who shares many of Mr. Bush's views on free markets, trade and development. President Bush has been dogged by protests most of the way on his Latin American trip, but as VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Merida, he can expect a much calmer scene there.

People dance on the streets at night in Merida and spend their days in the parks and plazas of this colonial city with its many monuments, old churches and municipal buildings. People here are also used to American visitors, many of whom come to see the nearby ruins of the ancient Mayan city of Uxmal, which President Bush will tour with his Mexican host, President Calderon, on Tuesday.

Many Merida residents have been impressed and, to some degree, annoyed by the tight security imposed by authorities for the Bush visit. Some protesters, mostly from Mexico City and elsewhere, are here, but no one expects the kind of violent clashes that occurred in South America.

Sitting in the shade of palm trees at a downtown plaza, Helen Torres says she believes the visit will go well.

She says people here are very calm and do not get roiled up about political matters.

Merida, which is the capital of the Mexican state of Yucatan, is a city of just under a million people about one thousand kilometers southeast of Mexico City, but even farther from the hectic and conflictive Mexican capital in terms of its ambiance. Political turmoil and protest marches are not a common part of life here.

As he sits in the plaza having his shoes shined, retired professional Eladio Cuello Quintana expresses minimal expectations for the Bush-Calderon meeting.

He says people here are not accustomed to such meetings and that they do not expect much. He says he does, however, hope that the two presidents can come to an agreement on immigration that will benefit Mexico.

Immigration reform is a goal President Bush has pursued for several years, but his attention was diverted by the terrorist attacks of September 2001 and the US Congress has been divided between those who favor the president's proposal for a guest worker program and those who want more effective enforcement at the border before any such program is considered. Some 12 million Mexicans live and work in the United States illegally, according to some estimates. Mexican immigrants send back more than $20 billion a year in remittances, the second largest source of income in Mexico next to oil.

During part of his trip, President Bush was shadowed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who seeks to displace US influence in Latin America with his brand of populist socialism. Chavez, an admirer of Cuba's communist leader, Fidel Castro, has referred to President Bush as "the devil" and the United States as "the empire."

Felipe Calderon would be a natural foil to Chavez in that he and President Bush agree on most economic issues. But Calderon has his own problems at home, having won election last July by the slimmest of margins.

One area where the two presidents can work together effectively is in fighting cross-border crime and drug smuggling. Calderon launched a far-reaching campaign against organized crime right after assuming office in December and he is expected to seek more US help in furthering that effort during his talks with President Bush.