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Archive for Saturday, November 5, 2005

Violent anti-Bush protests erupt in Argentina

November 5, 2005

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— Waving red flags and shouting "Yankee Go Home!" the thousands of protesters outside the Summit of the Americas united against plans for a giant free trade zone but focused their fury on a single person: President Bush.

The crowd chanted "Get out, fascist Bush!" and "You are the terrorist!" alternating their insults with the popular soccer rallying cry "Ole! Ole!"

Then the violence began.

More than 1,000 leftist demonstrators with faces cloaked by bandanas used clubs, slingshots and flying rocks to take on riot police who fought back with tear gas mere blocks from the summit site. The protesters burned American flags and used them as fuel for bonfires.

Leading the political fight against the U.S.-led plan to form the Free Trade Area of the Americas, or FTAA, was leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who addressed 10,000 peaceful demonstrators hours before taking part in the summit.

"Only united can we defeat imperialism and bring our people a better life," he said, adding: "Here, in Mar del Plata, FTAA will be buried!"

The chaos later in the day reflected the often violent, worldwide debate on free trade as the United States and Mexico pushed to relaunch talks on creating a zone stretching from Canada to Chile. Past summits on free trade - including last year's summit of Asian-Pacific leaders in Chile - have drawn bitter opposition and similar angry protests.

Before Chavez's speech, demonstrators flooded the streets, shouting "Fascist Bush! You are the terrorist!"

A protester kicks in a window of a bank Friday during a march against the presence of President Bush in the Fourth Summit of the Americas in the Atlantic resort city of Mar del Plata, Argentina.

A protester kicks in a window of a bank Friday during a march against the presence of President Bush in the Fourth Summit of the Americas in the Atlantic resort city of Mar del Plata, Argentina.

But Mexican President Vicente Fox said the FTAA proposal would move forward anyway because 29 of the 34 nations taking part in the summit were considering cobbling together their own FTAA - minus opponents like Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Thomas Shannon, the new U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said he wasn't aware of Fox's plan, but that "there is significant support within the region for economic integration and for a Free Trade Area of the Americas."

Argentine President Nestor Kirchner was critical of the United States during the summit, saying Latin America will no longer tolerate American meddling. He said past American policy toward the region "not only generated misery and poverty but also a great social tragedy that added to institutional instability in the region, provoking the fall of democratically elected governments."

The violence began with an open challenge by protesters, prompting authorities to fire tear gas into the crowd.

The protesters, armed with large wooden clubs, began smashing storefront windows and setting at least one bank on fire just outside the gated summit security zone. One restaurant with anti-Bush posters plastered across its windows was untouched.

Car sirens wailed as residents - including elderly people and children - fled as protesters launched rocks with slingshots and threw sharpened sticks at police. Officials said 64 people were arrested but there were no injuries in the protests.

A protester attacks police Friday during a march against the presence of  President Bush at the Summit of the Americas in the Atlantic resort city of Mar del Plata, Argentina.

A protester attacks police Friday during a march against the presence of President Bush at the Summit of the Americas in the Atlantic resort city of Mar del Plata, Argentina.

Ramon Madrid, a hotel manager, hurriedly closed up.

"I don't like Bush, but this is too much. There is no need for violence," Madrid said.

Stalled trade agreement

Top-level negotiators at the summit have so far failed to agree on key language aimed at relaunching talks as soon as April for the proposed FTAA - an ambitious proposal originally raised in 1994 at the first Americas summit in Miami.

The trade zone would rival the European Union as the world's largest, but its creation has been stalled for years amid bickering over U.S. farm subsidies and other obstacles.

Chavez and protesters argue that free trade is being forced on Latin American countries. He has instead pushed for an anti-FTAA deal based on socialist ideals and has used Venezuela's oil wealth to push for regional solidarity, offering fuel with preferential financing to various Caribbean and Latin American countries.

Venezuela is a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and is the world's fifth largest oil exporter as well as a major supplier to the U.S. market.

Chavez also regularly claims the United States is trying to overthrow his government, something the U.S. denies.

Bush pledges civility

Joking about his rivalry with Bush, the Venezuelan president has said he might try to sneak up and scare the U.S. president during the summit.

When asked how he would react to a close encounter with Chavez, Bush said he would be polite.

"That's what the American people expect their president to do, is to be a polite person," he said. "And if I run across him, I will do just that."

After meeting with Kirchner, Bush made no mention of free trade but said the two had a frank talk about Argentina's struggle to extricate itself from its financial meltdown.

Kirchner led a difficult renegotiation of more than $100 billion in public debt that was the largest sovereign default in history.

"The president was quite frank," Bush said.

Some 40 percent of Argentina's 36 million people remain in poverty, and many blame trade liberalization for destroying local industries and causing a flood of cheap imports.

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