MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina – A crowd of 10,000 protesters chanting "Get out Bush!" swarmed the streets of this Argentine resort Friday, hours before the hemisphere's leaders sat down to debate free trade, immigration and job creation.
Before dawn, thousands greeted a train bringing the last group of fellow demonstrators from Buenos Aires, including Bolivian presidential hopeful Evo Morales (search) and soccer great Diego Maradona (search), who donned a T-shirt accusing President Bush of war crimes.
Chanting "Fascist Bush! You are the terrorist!" the protesters hung from the engine and moved up the sides of the train, trying to shake hands with those inside.
Later, they took to the streets, heading toward a stadium where Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (search) made a speech before joining the Summit of the Americas (search).
Chavez arrived early Friday, saying he was "inspired" by the protesters, who also oppose the U.S.-led negotiations to form a Free Trade Area of the Americas (search) stretching from Alaska to Argentina.
"Today the FTAA is dead and we are going to bury it here. We are here to change the course of history," he said after stepping off his plane.
But Mexican President Vicente Fox (search), one of the region's biggest free trade proponents, told reporters that Venezuela and other nations opposed to the FTAA may be left behind as the rest of the hemisphere considers moving forward on creating a huge free trade zone.
One marcher, Canadian steelworker Dennis Matteau, said free trade must be stopped.
"We have NAFTA, so we know about free trade deals," he said. "They are not good for workers."
The march was mostly peaceful, although some self-proclaimed anarchists spray-painted slogans on a bank. Most businesses along the route had closed, except for a fruit stand protected by a wall of wooden crates.
"So far, I've only lost four bananas," owner Blas Zanghi said.
Shuttling between luxury hotels, Bush met with Argentine President Nestor Kirchner as well as Central American and Andean leaders Friday before joining the 34-nation summit.
Leaders attending the two-day summit agreed ahead of time to focus on creating jobs and reducing poverty. In recent days, however, attention has shifted to the free trade issue and sparring between the United States and Chavez, a leftist whose government has used his country's vast oil wealth on social programs for the poor.
Washington maintains the proposed free trade accord, which has stalled amid opposition by several Latin American countries, is vital to creating jobs and increasing wealth in the region.
Chavez, who regularly claims Washington is trying to overthrow him, has said free trade is being forced on Latin American countries and the deal would only help the rich. Instead, he is promoting anti-FTAA deal based on socialist ideals.
Bush arrived Thursday, the same day Venezuela staged a mock U.S. invasion of its own territory. The event was the latest exercise intended to prepare soldiers and civilian volunteers for what Chavez says is a possible attack by American troops.
U.S. officials deny any such plan.
Chavez and Bush will likely see each other Friday at the summit's inauguration but are not scheduled to meet one-on-one.
Jose Miguel Insulza, secretary-general of the Organization of American States — the Washington-based group that organized the summit — said he was disappointed by the attention given to the free trade deal.
"This is not a summit about the FTAA," a frustrated Insulza told reporters.
But Bush seemed to be winning over supporters. A high-ranking Brazilian official, who said he was not authorized to give his name, told reporters 28 of the 34 countries participating in the summit had agreed to relaunch trade talks as early as April.