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Bush the Negligent Neighbor

After ignoring Latin America for years, President George W. Bush is desperately trying to improve hemispheric relations. But his just completed trip to Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico came too late. Years of neglect could not possibly be erased by a trip long in photo opportunities and short in substance.

In the capitals of Latin America, Bush’s visit has been interpreted as a reaction to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s increasing influence and popularity in the region. Certainly, Chávez seems to have seen it that way, as he consistently heckled Bush from afar.

Before flying to Brazil, Bush said that his administration doesn’t get enough credit for its Latin American policy. But, in 2007, the United States will provide economic assistance to Latin American and the Caribbean worth $1.8 billion, which is $200 million less than in 2006. Moreover, almost half of the total comes in the form of military aid, while $716 million will go to one country, Colombia.

In an effort to increase its low popularity in Latin America, the Bush administration recently announced an additional $75 million for education, and $385 million to help finance mortgages for the poor. Also, the US Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort will make port calls in a number of Latin countries.