Bush affirms ties to Brazil

Two presidents agree to share technology to find alternative fuel, trim oil dependence

March 10, 2007|By Maura Reynolds | Maura Reynolds,Los Angeles Times

Sao Paulo, Brazil -- President Bush and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva set aside past differences yesterday and announced a new partnership to promote the use of alternative fuels to reduce the Western Hemisphere's dependence on fossil fuels.

Da Silva, whose left-of-center government has been critical of Bush on Iraq and the environment, suggested that the two countries can work pragmatically on issues of common interest even if they disagree in other areas.

"After all, we ... who have polluted the world so much in the 20th century, need to make our contribution to de-polluting it in the 21st century," da Silva said after showing off a state-of-the-art fuel depot outside Sao Paulo.

Bush, mindful of the political power of petrochemicals in Latin America, described energy as a national security issue.

"Dependency upon energy from somewhere else means that you're dependent upon the decisions from somewhere else. And so as we diversify away from the use of gasoline by using ethanol, we're really diversifying away from oil," Bush said.

What Bush left unsaid was that in Central and South America, dependence on foreign oil does not mean the Middle East as much as it means Venezuela, whose irascible president, Hugo Chavez, has used his oil wealth to pursue increasingly anti-American policies.

In fact, Chavez organized a rally yesterday in Buenos Aires, just across the Rio de la Plata river from Montevideo, Uruguay, where Bush was to arrive at the conclusion of his visit to Brazil.

During his one-day visit to Brazil, Bush and his aides tried to avoid discussing Chavez and his influence in Latin America, where many see him as taking up the leftist, anti-American mantle being relinquished by the ailing Fidel Castro.

Asked at a news conference whether his weeklong swing through the region would provide Chavez with more ammunition, Bush answered without mentioning the Venezuelan president directly. "This trip is to remind people of the ties that bind us, and the importance of this region for the future of the United States," Bush said.

The two nations - the largest in the hemisphere - signed a memorandum of understanding yesterday to share biofuel technology and promote its use by other nations in the region.

The fuel depot that Bush and da Silva visited - operated by Petrobas, the state-run fuel company - has pumps that can dispense ethanol, biodiesel or traditional gasoline. Brazil is the world's largest producer of ethanol, followed by the United States. Brazilian ethanol is made mainly from sugar cane, while U.S. ethanol comes mostly from corn.

"You've got great scientists, we've got great scientists; it makes sense for us to collaborate for the good of mankind," Bush said.

However, a U.S. tariff of 54 cents a gallon on sugar ethanol from Brazil remains a sore point between the two countries.

"It's not going to happen," Bush said when asked at a news conference whether his country would lift the tariff. Da Silva shrugged. "It's a process," he said and smiled at the Brazilian press corps.

Bush has proposed increasing the amount of ethanol blended into gasoline in the United States, as part of a plan he announced during his State of the Union address to reduce American dependency on oil imports.

Brazil has been developing ethanol for 30 years, and da Silva sees it as a key driver of his country's economy. The common message from each president was that increasing production of ethanol could help Brazil's economic development and ease its stifling poverty.

"The growing use of biofuel will be an inestimable contribution to the generation of income, social inclusion and reduction of poverty in many poor countries of the world," da Silva said.

Recognition of the persistence of poverty is a new theme for Bush, who has been seen in the region as largely interested in just three things: terrorism, trade and drug interdiction. The president made a point in all his remarks to talk about the need to alleviate poverty and increase economic opportunity, and emphasized American largesse in the region.

"I share your concerns about the people in democracy not receiving the benefits of democracy. I think you're very wise to recognize that democracy is only as strong as the people feel that the society benefits them," Bush said during the news conference.

He bristled when a Brazilian reporter accused him of having turned his back on Latin America for most of his presidency.

"I don't think America gets enough credit for trying to help improve people's lives," Bush said. He asserted that governmental aid to the region has doubled during his presidency.

"My trip is to explain, as clearly as I can, that our nation is generous and compassionate; that when we see poverty, we care; that when we see illiteracy, we want to do something about it," Bush said.

Maura Reynolds writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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