Condoleezza Rice Defends U.S. Policies in Latin America

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Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice shrugged off what she called the "negative agenda" of leftist critics in Latin America such as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, saying Tuesday the United States will pursue its own agenda as it sees fit.

The Bush administration's top diplomat defended U.S. policies in Latin America, and did not mention her fiercest critic in the region by name.

"The United States has a positive agenda for Latin America, and it's not in response to anybody's negative agenda toward the United States," Rice told journalists from around the world, in response to a question about Chavez and the rise of leftist politics.

President Bush's weeklong trip to Latin America last month was designed to emphasize U.S. aid for the region and counter criticism that the United States has neglected the region.

Bush was generally warmly received throughout his travels, and streets were packed with curious onlookers. Still, there were protests at nearly every stop, and Bush was shadowed from afar by Chavez, Venezuela's fiery leftist president, who conducted his own tour of Latin America and taunted the president nearly daily.

The Bush trip was widely viewed as an attempt to curtail Chavez's spreading influence in the region. Shortly after Bush returned home, Chavez claimed that Venezuelan financial aid to Latin America has surpassed U.S. commitments there.

Rice — who accompanied Bush on the trip to Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico — on Tuesday listed what she called examples of U.S. commitment to health, education and other priorities there. She also pointed to Brazil, Chile and other countries as places where the United States gets along well with left-leaning governments.

"We have a very active and positive agenda in Latin America, and that's what we are going to talk about," Rice told participants in a State Department international journalism fellowship program named for Edward R. Murrow. "If others wish to talk about negative aspects of the United States for their own political purposes, let them."