Demonstrations marking International Women’s Day were different this year. They were organised to protest against inequality between men and women, but also to protest against the visit of George Bush.
Tens of thousands demonstrated in the capital Sao Paulo behind banners condemning the US president as an “assassin, terrorist and number one enemy of humanity”. Further protests were held outside US consulates, the offices of US multinationals and public squares in 18 out of Brazil’s 26 states.
The protests were organised by dozens of social movements, unions and left wing political parties.
Despite Bush’s invitation being issued by the government, many rank and file members of President Lula’s Workers Party (PT) joined the protest, as did some regional leaders of the PT.
The protests were deeply embarrassing for Lula.
Bush came to Sao Paulo to boost his international popularity. He hoped to shore up his allies in Latin America who are threatened by the rising popularity of left wing leaders who challenge neoliberalism such as Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia.
Lula trumpeted his attempts to get trade concessions out of the US president, but in reality his job was to give left cover to Bush’s “friendship tour”.
The PT rose to power on the back of mass struggles and the promise of transforming Brazil. Since taking office in 2002, it has abandoned its radical agenda and implemented unpopular neoliberal policies.
Bush also has other reasons to be interested in Brazil. He hopes to tap Brazil’s “alternative fuel”, ethanol, which is produced from sugar cane.
Suzanne Pereira dos Santos of the movement of landless workers (MST) said, “Bush and the US go to war to control oil reserves, and now he and his pals are trying to control the production of ethanol. That has to be stopped.”
The police in Sao Paulo reacted to the protests by brutally attacking the demonstration with bullets and tear gas.
Manuel Amaral and Sean Purdy
When George Bush arrived in Uruguay over 25,000 people converged on the capital, Montivideo, demanding that he go home.
Tens of thousands of workers, students and activists marched to the edge of the “red zone” where the US delegation was staying. They were joined by a second demonstration organised by anarchists and left wing groups.
A speaker from the workers’ confederation told the crowd, “You, Mr Bush are not welcome in these lands. You represent the worst things that have happened to our country. You represent an imperialism that has condemned the majority of humanity to suffering and injustice.”
An unhappy Bush was forced to tell Uruguayan hosts, “I’m aware of the rejection my presence in this country generates. I hope this rejection is against my government and not against the American people.”
In his farewell speech Bush told President Tabare Vazquez, “If Uruguay has a problem just pick up the phone and call me.” This vague offer seems to be the only thing Vazquez got from the visit.
President Hugo Chavez reacted to Bush’s tour by embarking on a tour of his own.
At the same hour that Bush arrived in Uruguay, tens of thousands gathered in the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires, to hear Chavez denounce Bush as a “political corpse who came to divide”.
The following day, as Bush took his plane to Colombia, Chavez landed in Bolivia. And when Bush hit Guatemala, Chavez was in nearby Nicaragua.
Anti-war protesters turned out in force in the capital, Bogota, coming within 100 metres of Bush’s limousine as it cruised through the streets.
The protest was called by Polo Democratico Alternativo, the country’s first united centre-left party. Demonstrators shut down the main highway, despite massive intimidation by fully armed soldiers.
Bush hoped his visit to Colombia, which is one of the few US allies left in the region, would be a positive counterpoint to the wave of demonstrations that dogged his tour. But instead his visit galvanised the opposition.
The protests have haunted Bush throughout his visit to Latin America. In Guatemala, the last stop on Bush’s tour, Mayan tribal leaders performed cleansing ceremonies after Bush visited a sacred sites in order to rid the area of his “negative energy”.