LIMA, Peru – Oscar Miranda runs a shop selling soda pop and sandwiches and was open for business Saturday in downtown Lima. It was about all that was open for business in downtown Lima.
Miranda, 28, was the lone merchant working for blocks around an eerily deserted city center.
President Bush's visit meant some 7,000 police and soldiers had barricaded the streets leading to the Government Palace — but let him through to attend to his bodega.
"Business is so-so," said Miranda, who normally caters to bustling crowds in the colonial heart of old Lima. Gone were the shoppers, smoke-belching buses, shoplifters and street urchins all competing for space on the narrow streets.
Today, Miranda had only three riot police munching hot dogs in the back of his shop. But he wasn't complaining — the visit was just getting under way.
On this day, dozens of police officers in camouflage stood on every street corner with machine guns at hand — and surely many of them would be getting hungry before the 17-hour visit was over.
Asked why he didn't just close up, Miranda shrugged and said he couldn't let the excitement of the first visit to Peru by a U.S. president keep him away.
"What else was I going to do?" he asked. "Play some soccer or hang out at home?"
Government Silences Dissent
George W. Bush is the first American president to pay a state visit to Peru, 44 years after Richard Nixon, then a youthful vice president, was pelted by stone-throwing mobs when he came here.
That's the highest ranking American official Peruvians can remember in their fair town. But back then, the Cold War was going full bore and shouts of "Yankee, Go Home!" were heard loud and clear.
On Saturday, the cry of "Down with Yankee Imperialism!" was heard yet again ... sort of.
Anyone who tried to protest Bush's visit risked detention or arrest, thanks to an Interior Ministry order barring public assembly during his stay. The thousands of police backed by water cannon trucks and armored carriers had a chilling effect on would-be demonstrators.
But Cesar, a 20-year-old engineering student who wouldn't give his last name, was among some 25 friends who bravely came out to demonstrate — holding a black cloth banner reading in boxy letters: "Down With Imperialism, Another World is possible."
Moments after he unfurled the banner, about a dozen police bristling with shields and guns, converged on him and 25 other student demonstrators.
"If we live in a democracy, we have the right to make our point of view heard," Cesar insisted.
Police would hear no such thing.
So Cesar and his group glumly rolled up the banner and took shelter from the hot South American sun. In fact, they sat in the shade of a building side by side — peacefully alongside the police.
What a difference a half century makes.