The New York Times
April 27, 2005

Rice Begins Latin America Trip

BRASÍLIA, April 26 - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice began a good-will tour of Latin American capitals on Tuesday, full of warm words for the government leaders she will meet but at the same time unable to escape the controversies that are defining her job.

Speaking to reporters on her plane, she congratulated the leaders of Brazil, Colombia, Chile and El Salvador - her destinations this week - for leading vibrant democracies, describing Brazil, her first stop, as "a remarkable and emerging power in the region."

She reiterated much of the praise during a joint news conference with Celso Amorim, the Brazilian foreign minister, Tuesday evening but then found herself in conflict over the two nations' respective approaches to Venezuela.

Hugo Chávez, the president of Venezuela, has become an increasingly belligerent critic of Washington and has grown ever closer to Cuba. Over the weekend, he cut off a joint military training program with the United States that had been in place for 35 years.

As she has in the past, Ms. Rice urged Venezuela to live up to the democratic principles in the charter of the Organization of American States. But Mr. Amorim stressed that Brazil would "always, of course, observe the sovereignty of Venezuela," adding that "in any society, if problems exist, they should be solved by the people of the country itself."

Speaking to reporters earlier, Ms. Rice said, "We've had concerns about the behavior of the Venezuelan regime in terms of its own domestic development" and "in terms of relations with its neighbors."

Later this week, Mr. Chávez is traveling to Cuba for meetings with Fidel Castro. And on Tuesday, Mr. Chávez complained that Washington was considering granting political asylum to a Cuban immigrant, Luis Posada Carriles, who has been accused of terrorist acts in Panama and Venezuela.

"Let's see if a country that invades others, that bombs cities in Iraq and Afghanistan, grants asylum to this terrorist," Agence France-Presse quoted him as saying.