Bush Meets With Uruguayan President, Deflects Chavez's Verbal Attacks

President George W. Bush launched talks Saturday with Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez focused on expanding trade with this tiny coastal nation.

It was the second stop on a five-country Latin American trip shadowed by taunts from Venezuela's Hugo Chavez that Bush ignored. The leftist firebrand is answering the president's trek with jeers of "Gringo go home."

Chavez called Bush a "political cadaver" and blasted U.S. policies as "imperialist" as he led 20,000 supporters in an anti-American rally.

On a counter-tour to Bush's Latin America junket, the Venezuelan socialist heaped one invective after another on Bush in a biting, two-hour speech late Friday before 20,000 supporters at a soccer stadium, talking even as Bush's plane landed in nearby Uruguay.

"The U.S. president today is a true political cadaver and now he does not even smell of sulfur anymore," Chavez said, alluding to Bush's waning years in office. "What the little gentleman from the North now exudes is the smell of political death and in a very short time he will be converted into cosmic dust and disappear from the stage."

Asked at a news conference Friday in Brazil whether his trip counters Chavez' influence in the region or stokes the populist leader's support, Bush refrained from even naming his nemesis.

"I bring the goodwill of the United States to South America and Central America. That's why I'm here," said Bush, who also is visiting Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico.

"I don't think America gets enough credit for trying to help improve people's lives. And so my trip is to explain, as clearly as I can, that our nation is generous and compassionate."

The president and his advisers regularly deflect and downplay Chavez' verbal attacks on Bush, whom Chavez has dubbed the "little gentleman from the North."

White House press secretary Tony Snow said that while it's tough to ignore Chavez' verbal attacks, the president is going to concentrate on his meetings with heads of state.

"I know you want to make this trip about Chavez," Snow told reporters aboard Air Force One as it flew to Uruguay. "It's not."

He started to say something else, but decided it was best to stay mum. "I almost rose to the bait," he said.

Chavez said that he did not come to "sabotage" Bush's visit, saying the timing was a coincidence.

"This act was organized to say 'No!' to the presence of the imperial boss in these heroic lands of our America, in the heroic lands of South America," the Venezuelan president said to raucous cheers. "Gringo go home!"

On a cloudy, windy day, Bush boarded his helicopter along the coastline of the broad Plate River for the nearly one-hour trip to Estancia Anchorena, a facility in a national park that serves as this nation's equivalent to the U.S. presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland.

Bush is trying to spread a message of U.S. compassion for the region and sideline Chavez, who blames U.S.-style capitalism for poverty and inequality in Latin America.

Trade was dominating those talks at the presidential retreat about 155 miles from the capital city. Vazquez, a practicing oncologist, visited the White House in May 2006.

Vazquez is a left-of-center politician who shares a commitment to democracy and embraces free markets. Uruguay, overshadowed by its larger neighbors, Argentina and Brazil, wants to sell more beef and textiles to the United States, its biggest trade partner for two of the past three years.

The United States recently signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement with Uruguay, which could lay the groundwork for a Free Trade Agreement. But that could be a tricky move for Uruguay, which is part of Mercosur, the South American trade bloc that frowns on bilateral side deals outside the regional trade group.

Leftists in Uruguay oppose Bush's visit. Some in the region still blame Washington for tolerating brutal military regimes like the Argentinian dictatorship of 1976-83, when thousands of dissidents disappeared.

They remain wary of what they see as imperialistic tendencies in other parts of the world, such as Iraq. About 80 people marched Friday under a banner reading, "Genocidal Killer, Out of Latin America!" at the site of the Bush-Vazquez meeting.