President George W. Bush described United States relations with Latin America as "good" and said his administration’s policy is to be "good neighbors and good friends" with the region stressing upon the shared values of democracy.
Ready to leave for the Americas Summit in Mar del Plata, Argentina, where he will be meeting with 33 leaders from the hemisphere, President Bush held a joint interview with foreign correspondents in the White House.
"I’m looking forward to the trip which is an opportunity to foster democracy. Democracy is the form of government which can best stand up to the demands of the people", said President Bush who also identified governance and expanded trade as the main objectives of US policy for the coming summit.
"Politicians come and go, but what doesn’t change is the importance of standing on principle, and working with our friends in Central and South America that agree with the same principles," he said.
As to the growing anti-US feeling in Latinamerica president Bush was rather pragmatic.
"One reason why we have summits such as this is to remind people that we want to be good neighbors and good friends; we share a lot of values, common values, but I also understand not everybody agrees with the decisions I’ve made, but that’s not unique to Central or South America" insisted the President.
"Truth of the matter is there are people who disagree with the decisions I’ve made all over the world. And I understand that, but that’s what happens when you make decisions".
But what really matters is that the Mar del Plata summit presents "a chance to say to people in the neighborhood we share the values of rule of law, justice, human rights, human dignity, the right for women to participate equally in society. These are very powerful messages."
Bush downplayed concerns about further "radical" surprises in the hemisphere emphasizing that "the thing that we’re interested in is fair elections, free and fair elections where people have the chance to express themselves at the ballot box. It’s up to the people to decide who they want."
However he also pointed out that "sometimes we’ve seen different forms of government in our own hemisphere and around the world, where the people don’t decide but rather the elite decides, a handful of people gets to decide the fate of the people. And that, throughout history, has led to resentment and hatreds and turmoil and conflict."
Furthermore "if we think that people are disrupting the normal course of democracy, unwinding institutions such as the free press, not allowing people to worship freely, we’ll speak up. I insist we’ll speak up, as I hope others do, as well", highlighted the US president in apparent reference to Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.
As to promoting free trade and the December Hong Kong trade summit in the framework of the Doha round, President Bush said the US message is clear and loud, "let’s have open markets".
"The United States has an obligation to make sure that we put forth policies that encourage the process to move on, and we’ve done so, particularly on agriculture, which is a very difficult issue for some. And we took a leadership position on that."
"Trade is so vital particularly when addressing poverty, because grants and loans pale in comparison to the amount of good that can be done as commerce develops at all levels of government, at all levels of society, as a result of trade."
"I will come and say to the people, the leadership, and whoever is listening down there, that our markets are open, so long as you open your markets. In other words, let’s have open markets."
President Bush is also scheduled to travel to Brazil for talks with President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva before wrapping up his Latin American tour in Panama, where he is to meet with head of state Martin Torrijos.
This article appeared originally in Mercopress – www.mercopress.com.