Leaders End Americas Summit With No Deal

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Leaders from across the Americas ended their tumultuous two-day summit Saturday without agreeing to restart talks on a U.S.-favored free trade zone stretching from Alaska to Chile.

Argentine Foreign Minister Rafael Bielsa (search) said the 34-nation summit's declaration would state two opposing views: one by 29 nations favoring the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, and another by the remaining five saying discussions should wait until after World Trade Organization (search) talks in December.

The decision came after negotiations extended eight hours past the scheduled deadline. Almost all the leaders — including President Bush — left during the discussions and put other negotiators in charge.

The summit was marked by street battles between riot police and protesters opposed to Bush and the FTAA. The protesters ransacked and burned businesses just 10 blocks from the theater where the summit opened. Sixty-four people were arrested, but police reported no deaths or major injuries.

Security remained tight in Mar del Plata on Saturday. A huge section of downtown was closed off by metal barriers, and police and soldiers toted semiautomatic weapons.

Mexico, the United States and 27 other nations wanted to set an April deadline for talks on the free trade zone, but that was opposed by Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela.

The United States says the proposed FTAA would open up new markets for Americans and bring wealth and jobs to Latin America.

The zone's main opponent, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez (search), said it would enslave Latin American workers. He came to the summit vowing to "bury FTAA."

Chavez, a self-declared rival of Bush, declared the meeting a victory, saying the long "unedited, intense and frank debate was like none other in a summit."

In the declaration, the five dissenting countries stated: "The conditions do not exist to attain a hemispheric free trade accord that is balanced and fair with access to markets that is free of subsidies and distorting practices."

Bielsa said, "We are not going to negotiate something that is harmful to the interests of our people."

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe (search) volunteered to try to negotiate a consensus next year.

The last-minute haggling at the summit of Latin American and Caribbean nations came after Brazil — Latin America's largest economy — hedged at setting a firm date for talks because it wants to focus on the WTO talks in Hong Kong aimed at cutting tariffs around the world and boosting the global economy.

"Anything we do now, before the WTO meeting, could confuse the facts and we'd be creating an impediment to the WTO," Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told reporters on the sidelines of the meeting at Argentina's most renowned summer resort.

The decision capped a week of tensions between the United States and Venezuela, as Bush traveled to the region to mend fences in Latin America. U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley downplayed the meeting's differences, saying it was not necessary to reach an agreement at every summit.

"All 34 countries actually talked in terms of enhanced trade and an FTAA, recognizing there are challenges," he told reporters aboard Air Force One as Bush flew to Brazil for a much-anticipated visit with Silva.

Bush planned to spend Saturday night in the Brazilian capital, Brasilia, and be Silva's guest at a Sunday barbecue before flying to Panama.

The visit is aimed at strengthening relations with Silva, who initially was distrusted by Washington after becoming Brazil's first elected leftist leader in 2003. Since then, Silva — a former shoeshine boy, grade-school dropout, lathe operator and radical union leader — has abandoned his leftist rhetoric and has stabilized Brazil's economy.

The summit declaration also addressed such key regional issues as job creation, immigration and disaster relief for an area often devastated by hurricanes and earthquakes.

But the trade zone issue dominated the meeting, with Chavez pushing for the creation of a zone just for Latin America and the Caribbean based on socialist ideals.

Mexican President Vicente Fox argued that the 29 countries wanting to forge ahead should form the FTAA on their own — even though that would dash hopes of creating a bloc eclipsing the European Union.

The summit was the latest international meeting to fall victim to regional divisions over free trade. WTO talks broke down in Seattle in 1999 and in Cancun, Mexico, in 2003.

Negotiators trying to lay the groundwork for the FTAA also could not agree in Miami in 2003.

Anti-American and anti-FTAA protests have become commonplace at such meetings. Friday's violence was on a much smaller scale than clashes in 2001 during the Americas Summit in Canada, when police detained 400 people and scores were injured.