President Bush on Friday continued to say that the United States is not forgetting about Latin America and announced an alternative-fuel pact with Brazil to prove it.
“I don’t think America gets enough credit for trying to help improve people’s lives,” President Bush said at a news conference with Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva present. “My trip is to explain as clearly as I can that our nation is generous and compassionate.”
Bush played off attacks from Chavez, who is currently his primary South American tormentor. The Venezuelan leader is planning his own tour of the region along with Bush’s week long, five-country visit.
President Chavez said he did not come to sabotage Bush or his visit, saying the timing was purely coincidence, even as Bush arrived in Uruguay for his 36 hour stay.
Chavez uses his country’s oil wealth to reach out to other Latin Americans and to court other likely leaders.
When asked directly about Chavez’s latest threats, Bush refused to say Chavez by name, a common practice of his.
“I bring the good will of the United States to South America and Central America,” Bush said. “That’s why I’m here.”
Bush also made sure to note that the total aid provided by America has doubled since he took office to 1.6 billion dollars.
Bush sees Silva as a counter-balance to Chavez for the region.
As a sign of his standing, the president invited Silva to visit Camp David on March 31.
The the main reason of Bush’s Brazilian stop, the first before heading on to Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala then Mexico, was a new ethanol agreement.
The two went in the morning to a large fuel depot for tanker trucks, the backdrop for arguments from Bush and Silva that increasing alternative-fuel use will lead to more jobs, a cleaner environment and greater independence from the whims of the oil market.
In Brazil, nearly eight in 10 cars already run on fuel made from sugar cane.
The agreement, signed Friday morning by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Brazilian counterpart, has the U.S. and Brazil joining forces to promote more ethanol use in nations lying between Brazil and the United States. It also creates new quality standards for the alternative fuel.
But there were clear remaining tensions on a related issue: the 54-cent-a-gallon U.S. tariff on imports of Brazilian ethanol made from sugar, a measure designed to help U.S. corn growers. Ethanol can be made from either crop.
Before Bush’s visit, Silva said the duty was unjust and that he would urge Bush to seek to get the U.S. Congress to rescind it.
“It’s not going to happen. The law doesn’t end until 2009. And the Congress will … look at it when the law ends,” Bush commented while at the news conference.
For his region, Silva joked about the stalemate and his inability to alter Bush’s psyche.
“If I had that capacity for persuasion that you think I might have, who knows? I might have convinced President Bush to do so many other things that I couldn’t even mention here.”
“This is a process,” the Brazilian president added.
Bush and Silva also agreed to try to relaunch stalled global trade talks — the so-called Doha round — and Bush said, “We will work together. We will lock our trade ministers in a room, all aimed at advancing this important round.”
Susan Schwab, U.S. Trade Representative, was stayed behind to meet with Brazilian officials Saturday.
In Latin America, Brazil has the largest economy.