The Miami Herald
Mar. 21, 2002

Bush to talk drugs, trade, immigration on Latin trip

                      BY JAMES KUHNHENN
                      Herald Washington Bureau

                      WASHINGTON - President Bush visits Latin America this week to focus on controlling immigration,
                      combating drugs and expanding trade, issues that have been redefined in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

                      The brisk four-day, three-country tour, which begins today, aims to reassert U.S. leadership in a
                      hemisphere that is eager to get back on the president's radar. The largely symbolic excursion will reunite
                      Bush with Mexican President Vicente Fox and showcase the fledgling democracies of Peru and El Salvador.

                      It could serve Bush well politically at home, where he has made a point of courting Hispanic voters, the
                      fastest-growing vote bloc.

                      But he will travel relatively empty-handed. The Senate has yet to act on an Andean trade agreement and
                      on legislation that would tighten border security and provide extended stays to thousands of
                      undocumented immigrants, both key initiatives aimed at Latin America that would have enhanced Bush's
                      prestige south of the border.

                      Still, administration officials and foreign diplomats say, Bush's meetings could set the stage for significant
                      breakthroughs on crucial regional issues such as immigration, commerce and narco-terrorism. The trip also
                      comes as Latin America is wrestling with domestic challenges, including slowing economies, rising
                      unemployment and lawlessness that has unnerved foreign investors.

                      Bush sees this trip through the prism of his war on terrorism. That illuminates the foreign aid plan he will
                      present Friday in Monterrey, Mexico, to the International Conference on Financial Development. It also
                      colors immigration negotiations with Fox's government. And it alters the Andean war on cocaine and
                      narcotics trafficking, which the administration now views as a broader war on guerrilla insurgencies,
                      particularly in Colombia.

                      ''This is what they would call in El Salvador a chapandongo -- basically, a stew pot of issues,'' said Stephen
                      Johnson, a former State Department official who's now at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative policy
                      research center in Washington.

                      Here's how Bush's trip is expected to unfold:

                      Monterrey, Mexico. The president first will participate in the United Nations' financial development
                      conference, where he will submit his multibillion-dollar plan for more foreign aid to countries that meet
                      certain criteria on democratization, open markets and social improvements in health and education. The
                      plan, which in part aims to remove terrorist breeding grounds, calls for annual increases in aid beginning in
                      2004 that would add $5 billion by 2006, for a total of $15 billion a year, a nearly 50 percent increase over
                      current levels.

                      Aid groups applauded the package, which requires congressional approval, but they note that it still falls
                      short of other industrialized countries.

                      After the conference, Bush will meet with Fox, whom he last entertained at his first White House State
                      Dinner just days before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The meeting, which will be the eighth between the
                      two friends, comes as U.S. officials say relations between their countries are the warmest ever.

                      ''I don't think it could be stronger,'' said Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security advisor.

                      Liberalized immigration remains a nettlesome problem, however. Bush's visit is expected to reenergize
                      negotiations, but no breakthroughs are expected.

                      Bush is under pressure to push Fox into economic reforms to improve Mexico's living standards, which
                      remain at 1980 levels for most Mexicans.

                      ''Mexico is very well aware that this is a problem that has a domestic component,'' Mexican Ambassador
                      Juan José Bremer Martino said this week.

                      Lima, Peru. On Saturday Bush will become the first U.S. president to visit Peru. He plans to meet privately
                      with President Alejandro Toledo, the democratically elected successor to the authoritarian Alberto Fujimori,
                      and to participate in an Andean summit among leaders of Peru, Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador. All are
                      expected to seek more U.S. financial and military help in their war against drug lords.

                      Colombian President Andrés Pastrana has asked the United States to expand its anti-drug mission in
                      Colombia to help fight rebels in the country's 40-year civil war. Bush has asked Congress for authority and
                      money to help with the guerrilla war as well as to work against narco-traffickers. Some members of
                      Congress react coolly to the idea.

                      In interviews with Latin American journalists before his departure, Bush ruled out sending U.S. combat
                      troops to Colombia.

                      ''I don't see any role beyond advising and training,'' he told the Telemundo television network. ``It's
                      important for the Colombians to make the decision themselves, to get the will necessary to take on these
                      terrorists. We will help them help themselves.''

                      Not all the region's leaders are eager for such U.S. help.

                      ''Peru has not asked for and does not need external support to combat terrorism in the country,'' said
                      Diego García-Sayán, Peru's foreign minister.

                      Diplomats and analysts say Bush chose to visit Peru because it has adopted democratic reforms and
                      appears eager to embrace open markets and expanded trade.

                      But Bush travels without the enhanced authority to negotiate trade deals that he has asked Congress to
                      give him. The Senate this week also delayed a vote renewing the Andean Trade Preference Act, which
                      gives the four Andean countries duty-free access to the U.S. market for a variety of products.

                      San Salvador. Bush will meet with President Francisco Flores and have a working lunch with other Central
                      American leaders. El Salvador, Central America's third-largest economy, has emerged as a triumph of
                      democracy after its bloody civil war in the 1980s.

                      But the country is reeling from natural disasters, including a drought, earthquakes and a hurricane that
                      have displaced thousands of people.

                      Kevin G. Hall of The Herald's world staff contributed to this report from Peru