MONTERREY, Mexico – Disagreements over free trade (search) and penalties for corrupt nations threatened to deepen rifts between countries across the Americas as their leaders opened a two-day summit Monday.
President Bush, who arrived in this industrial northern city with first lady Laura Bush, wants to punish corrupt nations and set a firm deadline for a free trade agreement of the Americas.
Latin American nations are fighting those initiatives, with Venezuela pushing for an international humanitarian fund to help countries during financial and natural disasters.
Leaders from 34 nations in the Americas, excluding only Cuba, will try to work out their differences after they begin the Special Summit of the Americas (search) later Monday.
Bush met with Mexican President Vicente Fox (search) on Monday to smooth relations strained by Fox's refusal to back the Iraq war. Bush won strong support from Fox for his new immigration proposal, which is designed to grant legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants working in the United States.
Later Monday, Fox accepted Bush's invitation to visit his Texas ranch, a further sign that the two neighbors have mended recently rocky ties. Fox had planned to travel to the ranch in Crawford, Texas in 2002, but canceled his trip after U.S. authorities refused to halt the execution of a Mexican convicted of killing a Dallas police officer.
Bush was scheduled to meet with Canada's new prime minister, Paul Martin, on Tuesday. Martin spokeswoman Melanie Gruer said that would be "a chance to talk about mutual priorities."
Even before the summit, several Latin American leaders were complaining about U.S. policy. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he believed the summit was a "waste of time" and he criticized U.S. officials for having "a lack of information, great contradictions."
U.S. officials privately worry that Chavez is working with Cuba to oppose pro-American democracies in the region.
When he arrived, Chavez was even more biting.
"We meet, we greet, we sign a declaration, we take a picture, we smile, there are meals, but nothing happens," he complained.
Chavez toned down his comments from Sunday, when he said during his weekly television show that he was worried the United States would promote ousting him by unconstitutional means if a recall referendum on his rule doesn't succeed.
The leaders will have plenty to disagree about when they consider the summit's draft document, which leaves several contentious issues to be resolved.
The United States wants to kick corrupt nations out of the Organization of American States, arguing they should receive the same punishment as undemocratic nations.
The United States also wants the summit declaration to call for a firm 2005 deadline for finishing negotiations on a Free Trade Area of the Americas, a hemisphere-wide trade zone that is one of Bush's top policy goals for Latin America.
Brazil and Venezuela say the summit is not the place to discuss that, and Venezuela instead is pushing for its humanitarian fund.
Another sticking point deals with remittances, or money sent home by migrants living in the United States. While all OAS members agree that the fees for sending money home should be cut in half, they haven't decided when they would do that.