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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 March 2007, 19:00 GMT
Bush focuses on immigration reform
By Lourdes Heredia
BBC News, Mexico

President George W Bush finished his five-country tour to Latin America with the promise to work as hard "as I possibly can" to pass comprehensive immigration reform in the United States.

Bush speaking at Hacienda Xcanatun
President George W Bush spoke at Hacienda Xcanatun in Mexico

He made the promise to Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who received Mr Bush with harsh words about the 700-mile fence that the US is planning to construct along the border.

"One kilometre of road in Michoacan or Zacatecas will be more effective in curbing immigration than a 10km-long wall in Texas or Arizona," were Mr Calderon's welcoming words to Mr Bush on the first day of his visit to Mexico.

Immigration was also the main concern of Mr Bush's meeting with President Oscar Berger, of Guatemala, who complained about the forced deportations of his countrymen who enter the US illegally.


Mr Bush explained that his country had the right to protect its borders, but admitted that the problem of more than 11 million immigrants living in the US - mostly from Mexico - had to be resolved and pledged to push reform through Congress.

Mr Bush walking with Mexican president Felipe Calderon and archaeologist Tomas Gallareta at Mayan ruin
Mr Bush and Mexico's Felipe Calderon visited Mayan ruins

But Mr Bush's credibility in Latin America is worn out. He failed to get an overhaul of US immigration law through the then Republican-led Congress last year, due to conservative concerns about border enforcement.

Whether Democrats who are in an uproar about the Iraq war will now be open to an immigration deal is uncertain.

In Colombia, Mr Bush also promised that he would push for the Free Trade Agreement, already signed with President Alvaro Uribe, to be approved by Congress.

The Democrats, however, have said that the pact with Colombia needs to be changed or they will not approve it.

Complicated agenda

So, was the Bush trip all about promises? Did he get any concrete results?

The White House says that the tour was aimed at rebuilding US ties and promoting the use of ethanol as an alternative to oil.

In Brazil, Mr Bush's first stop on the trip, he did sign a broad agreement with Brazilian President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva to work together to advance bio fuels. Together, the two nations account for 70% of global ethanol production.

However, Brazil also wanted the elimination of the 54-cent-per-gallon US import tariff, and the answer from the US president was a blunt no.

"It is not going to happen. The law (that created the tariff) does not end until 2009 and the Congress will analyse the issue when the law ends. We are not going to waste time with that answer," said Mr Bush, asked at a news conference about the Brazilian government's request that the issue be reviewed.

These negatives, combined with just promises to support laws that depend on Congress - which is now in hands of the opposition - complicated Mr Bush's efforts to use his trip to convince Latin America that the US cares about poverty, destitution and social justice.

Security measures

Dan Bartlett, a counsellor to the president, explained that the trip was, nevertheless, crucial because it meant Mr Bush could listen and exchange opinions with the leaders of the region.

"The president is in high demand as the leader of the free world, the leader of the most powerful country in the free world. And it is always important when he gets to spend this personal time with leaders," Mr Bartlett explained.

Police and protesters
Police guarded the municipal palace against protesters in Merida

Did Mr Bush also hear the protests that greeted him all along his trip? The answer to that is uncertain, as the security measures around the president in each country were extreme.

In Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Merida, they sealed the area where Mr Bush was staying, and he travelled only in motorcades along nearly-deserted roads.

The slogans chanted by protesters in all these countries were similar and their banners said more or less the same: "Bush go home", "Bush murderer".

In all these demonstrations it was clear that people did not support the war in Iraq and that they view with suspicion Mr Bush's motives in visiting "after six years of neglect".

Even if they shared the opinion of the protesters, many people preferred to stay home and ignore Mr Bush's visit.

Jose, a taxi driver in the tour's last stop, Merida, told this reporter that he could not "stop my taxi for Bush".

"Is he going to give me food for my kids, or what? And really, I don't think that our poverty has nothing to do with Bush. It has to do with our own governments. It has to do with the corruption in our own land," he explained.

One of the successes of this trip, nevertheless, was to act as a counterweight to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who embarked on his own tour following Mr Bush.

By not mentioning his name - Mr Bush did not mention even once the word "Chavez" - the analysts feel that he made a point and won a lot of credit with public opinion in the region.

Bush vows migration reform drive
14 Mar 07 |  Americas
Bush stops in Guatemala for talks
13 Mar 07 |  Americas
Bush applauds Colombian support
12 Mar 07 |  Americas
Chavez attacks Bush 'domination'
10 Mar 07 |  Americas

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