Tucson Citizen
January 13, 2004

Summit of the Americas: Behind the handshakes

Bush preaches unity for a sometimes testy hemisphere

The Associated Press

MONTERREY, Mexico - Leaders from across the Americas pledged to strengthen democracy and fight terrorism yesterday, despite regional conflicts and cross-border disputes that threaten the unity of the hemisphere.

 As one of the first speakers at the 34-nation Summit of the Americas, President Bush reached out to the rest of Latin America, saying his government was committed to "embracing the challenge of ... bringing all the hemisphere's people into the expanding circle of development."

Bush added that all countries "must work to provide quality education and quality health care for all our citizens, especially those who suffer from HIV/AIDs."

 But the president also made reference to the issues that have led many Latin Americans to criticize his administration, including a proposal to ban corrupt nations from the Organization of American States.

 "Today, I signed a proclamation denying corrupt officials entry into my country. I urge other countries to take similar actions."

 He took aim at Venezuela, whose president, Hugo Chavez, recently accused the United States of "sticking its nose" into his country's affairs when it urged that he allow a referendum on recalling him from office.

 Bush said the "support of democratic institutions ... gives hope and strength to those struggling to preserve their God-given rights, whether in Venezuela, or Haiti or Bolivia."

Chavez told reporters earlier that the United States was lacking information. "We are working to make clear to the world what we are. ... Venezuela has a vigorous, participative democracy with a country rebuilding itself from scratch."

 Chavez toned down his comments from Sunday, when he said during his weekly television show that he was worried the United States would promote his unconstitutional ouster if the recall referendum didn't succeed.

 In addition to opposing the U.S. anti-corruption initiative, both Venezuela and Brazil have argued against setting a firm deadline in the summit declaration for a free trade agreement of the Americas.

 On Sunday, Mexico President Vicente Fox indicated he didn't believe the trade agreement should be included in the summit's agenda.

 Fox to visit Bush ranch

 MONTERREY, Mexico - Mexico and the United States are mending fences, so to speak.

 Mexican President Vicente Fox accepted an invitation to visit U.S. President Bush's Texas ranch in March, another sign that the two leaders' sometimes rocky relationship is on the mend.

 After Bush took office in 2001, he made Fox's ranch his first international trip. Both leaders, who share a love of cowboy boots and rural life, said they wanted to focus on strengthening relations.

But when Bush declined to halt the 2002 execution of a Mexican accused of killing a police office, Fox protested by canceling a planned trip to Texas. Relations deteriorated further when Mexico refused to back the Iraq war.

 Water debt bubbles up at summit

 MONTERREY, Mexico - President Bush doesn't drink the water in Mexico. Not even bottled.

 During his meeting with Mexican President Vicente Fox yesterday in the northern city of Monterrey, Bush brought his own bottled water from the United States.

 During the meeting, he prodded his Mexican counterpart, picking up his FDA-approved brand and saying: "Let's talk about this," said Fox's spokesman, Agustin Gutierrez.

 His comment referred to the Mexico's sizeable water debt to the United States.

 Fox responded that he felt he had paid his annual water dues but recognized that there was still a larger debt to be paid, Gutierrez said.

 Bush noted that many Mexican dams were still at good levels after this year's heavy rainy season.