Bush Heads to Mexico Next Week for Summit

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When President Bush attends a 34-nation hemispheric summit in Mexico (search) next week, he will be armed with ideas on how the region can address its chronic poverty, but he also will face a series of squabbles with countries throughout the region.

From Argentina to Brazil to Venezuela, leaders have expressed annoyance with the United States in recent days over issues including new fingerprinting rules and American criticism of interaction with Cuba (search).

With an agenda that focuses on social issues, the two-day "Special Summit of the Americas" (search) lacks some of the drama associated with summits that Bush attends each year in Europe and Asia. But there are a number of political issues that may arise during the discussions Monday and Tuesday in the northern Mexico industrial city of Monterrey.

Venezuela has emerged as a concern for the United States because of its close ties to Cuba and its perceived efforts to stoke anti-American sentiment elsewhere in the region. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (search) also staunchly opposes the proposed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (search), the administration's principal policy goal for Latin America.

"We've had a strained relationship with Venezuela and with President Chavez," Secretary of State Colin Powell said this week, acknowledging the tensions.

Brazil, meanwhile, in retaliation for new security measures imposed on foreigners arriving at U.S. airports, is responding with what U.S. officials describe as draconian measures of its own against American visitors to that country.

"They were disturbed about what we did, but they knew what we did was coming," Powell said. He said he had talked to Brazilian officials and told them, "Let's work our way through this. ... It should not be the basis of a major problem between the United States and Brazil," and planned more talks.

In addition, Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, who took office last year, has said there will no longer be "automatic alignment" by Argentina with U.S. policies.

Argentina was "upset," Powell acknowledged, at recent statements by a Bush administration official implying it was being too soft on Cuba. Powell said he would discuss that matter, too, at the summit.

There is significant opposition in the hemisphere to the U.S. embargo against Cuba. In a surprise move last spring, the Organization of American States (search) rejected the Bush administration's nominee for the OAS Inter-American Commission for Human Rights.

Still, the United States has enthusiastically welcomed the advent of democracy in the hemisphere, encompassing all countries except Cuba.

Dictatorship has been pushed aside by "a relentless democratic tide," Roger Noriega, the top State Department official for Latin America, said in a speech Tuesday.

And Bush's proposals this week to overhaul U.S. immigration laws won praise, if limited, from Mexican President Vicente Fox and other leaders. Fox on Thursday called Bush's proposal "a great step forward," but said it did not meet all his goals and would be discussed with American officials at the summit. "We're going for more," Fox told reporters.

Bush's plan would create a temporary worker program for illegal migrants now in the United States and for those in other countries who have been offered employment in America.

The agenda for the Mexico summit will focus on ways to stimulate economic growth, reduce poverty and promote good governance.

In his speech, Noriega said the administration is recommending practical steps, such as protecting property rights, lowering barriers to remittances from U.S.-based workers from Latin America, increasing access to financial services, and making it easier to start and expand a small business.

As an example of shortcomings, Noriega said that in many countries, property ownership is not even officially recorded.

He also called for a concerted effort among hemispheric countries to lower the service charges for remittances sent home by U.S.-based Latin workers.

As for entrepreneurs in the region, Noriega said they "face some of the most daunting obstacles in the world."