Latin America to Bush: “Get out imperialist!”
President Bush embarked on a Latin American tour March 8-14 that included stops in Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico. The tour was billed in the mainstream media as an opportunity to ‘bolster relations with our neighbors to the south’ and to ‘remind Latin Americans that Bush hasn’t forgotten about them,’ but people who know better recognized Bush’s true motives: to strengthen free trade agreements that maximize corporate profits through the exploitation of resources and workers and to minimize the influence of Hugo Chavez, the widely popular president of Venezuela.
Upon Bush’s arrival in Brazil on March 8, 6000 demonstrators marched in Sao Paulo shouting, “Assassin!” and, “Get out imperialist!” They oppose an ethanol energy agreement with the U.S. because increased ethanol production would lead to further clearing of the Amazon rainforest and further economic injustice. Most sugarcane-ethanol operations are run by wealthy families that reap most of the benefits while the poor are left to cut the cane with machetes. Peaceful Brazilian protesters were attacked with tear gas and clubs. At least 18 people were severely injured.
In Colombia, 200 masked students at Bogota’s National University clashed with 300 riot police, spray-painting anti-U.S. slogans on walls and shouting, “Out Bush!” Police fired water cannons and tear gas and the students hurled back rocks, fireworks, a few Molotov cocktails and dozens of potato bombs – small explosives made of gunpowder wrapped in foil. They oppose Plan Colombia, a U.S. military aid package that funds the Colombian government’s counter-insurgency war against anyone working for positive social change. Trade unionists and human rights advocates consistently face death threats, kidnappings, and assassinations at the hands of the military and their paramilitary allies.
In Uruguay, anti-U.S demonstrators shattered windows at an American fast-food restaurant as Bush arrived on March 9 and was driven to his hotel in a bulletproof limousine. “Exterminate the Empire!” a masked woman spray-painted on a business facade as rocks flew in Montevideo. Across the border in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Hugo Chavez addressed a rally of 20,000 people calling Bush a “political cadaver” and denouncing his policies as “imperialist.”
In Guatemala, Mayan leaders announced that indigenous priests would purify the sacred archaeological site of Iximche to eliminate bad spirits after Bush’s scheduled visit on March 12. In Mexico, where Bush was scheduled to visit the following day, 50 demonstrators gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy chanting slogans against the U.S. project to construct border fences. One man showed up in a devil’s mask, carrying a sign reading “My name is George Bush, killer of Mexicans.”
The outpouring of angry protest at Bush’s presence in Latin America should not be underestimated or misinterpreted. For decades, the U.S. government supported, trained and funded right-wing dictatorships and death squads in Latin America to protect ‘vital economic interests.’ The U.S. continues to sponsor state terror in Colombia. NAFTA and bilateral free trade agreements steal natural resources, exploit workers, damage the environment, and destroy indigenous cultures. Mainstream media in the U.S. have characterized these protests generically as anti-American. Latin Americans are infuriated by U.S. imperialism that threatens their economies, their health and their lives.