Bush, Vazquez keep to friendly terms

U.S. president renews pledge to overhaul immigration law, create guest worker program

March 11, 2007|By New York Times News Service

ESTANCIA ANCHORENA, Uruguay --Of all of the Latin American nations President Bush is visiting this week, this one is the smallest, with a population that is half that of New York City.

But it has two things that provide a particular draw: a left-leaning president in the region who is still willing to buck the anti-American push of regional strongmen such as President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, and one who has a sprawling presidential retreat that is a cross between Camp David and Bush's Texas ranch.

In a news briefing that followed the first of two meetings at this official retreat, a pastoral setting with goats, cows and horses near the border with Argentina, Bush and President Tabare Vazquez avoided their most contentious issues: Uruguay's objection to U.S. farm subsidies, and what has to be White House displeasure with Uruguay's opposition to the Iraq war.

Bush renewed his pledge to create an overhaul of U.S. immigration laws that would include a guest worker program - a prospect that continues to languish in Congress but will certainly come up again on the trip. "I expressed to him that it is my interest to get a comprehensive immigration bill out of the United States Congress as soon as possible," he said.

And Vazquez stuck to friendly, broad terms, recalling a visit to Uruguay by Bush's father in 1990, when Vazquez, a physician, was the mayor of Montevideo, the nation's capital.

Most important, officials said, was to use the visit to raise up Vazquez, still a part-time oncologist, as an example of what Dan Fisk, the top Western hemisphere specialist on the National Security Council, called Friday "a country that is making the right policy choices."

Last month, the United States and Uruguay signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement to strengthen economic and trade ties without addressing the thorny issues of tariffs and subsidies. But Chavez has opposed the framework and is trying to push the region's Mercosur trade alliance toward a stronger anti-America stance.

Asked about his position of juggling his country's expanding relations with the United States and its membership in Mercosur at the news briefing yesterday, Vazquez said, "I favor the regional process - we are where we are, and we don't want to leave this place." But, he said, "Mercosur should be able to integrate other blocs, other countries in the world."

Neither he nor Bush mentioned by name Chavez, who is about 50 miles from here, in Buenos Aires, staging a protest of Bush's visit to the region.

Asked what he thought of Chavez's taunts that the U.S. president would not even say the Venezuelan leader's name, Bush again refused to do so or answer the question directly, saying, "The trip is a statement of a desire to work together with people in our neighborhood." If he referred to Chavez's bombast at all, it was by emphasizing that "I would call our diplomacy quiet and effective diplomacy."

Chavez held a loud rally in Buenos Aires on Friday night in which he mocked everything from Bush's poll ratings to his attempts to reach out in the region, and he said, "Gringo, go home."

Afterward, Bush's aides complained about the attention the media were giving to Chavez.

But even as Vazquez has made a show of friendship with Bush, as he did yesterday, he has also seemed to send signals to Chavez and others in the region that he has his own issues with American power. In remarks this month in which he also spoke about Bush's coming visit, Vazquez declared his was an "anti-imperialist" government, borrowing the language of Chavez, who calls the United States an imperialist power.

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