BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez joined 20,000 people in a soccer stadium rally Friday night, capping a day of protests and taunts against U.S. President George W. Bush and his tour of Latin America.
"Oh, ho ho! Gringo go Home!" Chavez declared Friday before donning a bright red shirt symbolizing his brand of socialist revolution at an "anti-imperialist" rally in the Argentine capital, just across the Rio de la Plata from Bush's stops in Uruguay.
Across the river border in the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo, a small knot of rowdy anti-American demonstrators punched and scuffled with some bystanders and shattered windows at an American fast-food restaurant. The incident came as Bush flew to Uruguay from neighboring Brazil.
"Exterminate the Empire!" a masked woman spraypainted on a business facade as some rocks flew. There was no report of any serious injuries but the incidents underscored the tension as Uruguay's first leftist president, Tabare Vazquez, awaited to meet Bush on Saturday.
Chavez has said Bush's five-nation swing would fail to improve America's image and dismissed his pledges of U.S. aid as a cynical attempt to "confuse" Latin Americans.
"I believe the chief objective of the Bush trip is to try to scrub clean the face of the empire in Latin America. But it's too late," the Venezuelan leader said earlier in the day on Argentine state television. "It seems he's just now discovered that poverty exists in the region."
At the stadium rally, About 20,000 people, men and women, old and young, applauded Chavez, who spoke under banners reading "Bush, Out!" Earlier, youths in the crowd danced amid shouts: "Anyone who doesn't jump is with Bush!"
"We are here to show our support of Chavez and our repudiation of Bush and imperialism," said Claudio Hernandez, a Chilean in the crowd. "We are against Bush because of his oil wars and his other policies, which go against the people of the world."
Anti-American and anti-Bush sentiment run high in the countries on Bush's tour, particularly over the war in Iraq and U.S. trade negotiations.
During his first stop in Sao Paulo, Brazil, riot police fired tear gas and clubbed some protesters after more than 6,000 people held a largely peaceful protest march Thursday.
Brazil's streets were calmer Friday, though 150 protesters gathered near Bush's hotel and burned a Bush effigy with a swastika on its shirt and a Hitler mustache penciled on its face.
In Argentina, many still blame Washington for tolerating the country's brutal military regimes of 1976-1983, when thousands of dissidents were tortured and killed. The organizers of Chavez's rally included Mercedes Merono of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a group still searching for sons and daughters who vanished after being arrested under military rule.
"This counter-rally is extremely important," she said. "Bush seeks to take advantage of Latin America while Chavez supports the region's independence."
Police put down violent protests in Colombia in advance of Bush's visit there, and in Guatemala, Mayan leaders announced that Indian priests will purify the sacred archaeological site of Iximche to eliminate "bad spirits" after Bush visits there Monday.
"That a person like (Bush), with the persecution of our migrant brothers in the United States, with the wars he has provoked, is going to walk in our sacred lands, is an offense for the Mayan people," Guatemalan activist Juan Tiney said.
Bush wraps up his trip next week in Mexico, where a handful of protesters demonstrated Friday outside the U.S. Embassy.
In Sao Paulo, many people were simply bothered by the traffic caused by all the security protecting Bush.
"This is irritating. All the roads are blocked and our clients can't come in," said real estate agent Juliana Figueiredo.