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Bush Theme of Doubling Latin Aid Is Seen as Misleading

President Bush and Laura Bush arrive in Sao Paulo, Brazil, for a tour that includes four other Latin American nations.
President Bush and Laura Bush arrive in Sao Paulo, Brazil, for a tour that includes four other Latin American nations. (By Pablo Martinez Monsivais -- Associated Press)

His largess has not gone unnoticed in the region. Argentine President Néstor Kirchner, from whom Chávez has pledged to buy about $3 billion in Argentine bonds, is allowing the Venezuelan leader to use a soccer stadium in Buenos Aires to hold an anti-Bush rally expected to attract tens of thousands Friday night, when Bush will arrive in neighboring Uruguay.

That may explain why Bush is so intent on calling attention to U.S. aid, telling interviewers and audiences that he has increased it from $860 million to $1.6 billion. "And yet we don't get much credit for it," Bush told CNN's Spanish-language network. "And I want the taxpayers, I want the American people to get credit for their generosity in Central and South America."

Analysts note that Bush is using a misleading base line, comparing this year's figure with 2001, a year when Latin American aid was essentially cut in half temporarily to make up for a large military aid package for Colombia and five neighbors. Moreover, Bush never mentions in his comments that he just proposed cutting the figure he cites in next year's budget.

"The total aid for 2000 was actually higher than the 2008 budget request because of the Plan Colombia supplemental, and in 2002 the amount of aid was about the same as it is now," said Adam Isacson of the Center for International Policy in Washington. "So unfortunately, this change in rhetoric isn't reflected in the budget."

Speaking with reporters on Air Force One, Bush's national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, argued that debt relief and the new Millennium Challenge program, which provides additional money to select countries that meet certain standards, mean that even more money is flowing to the region. And he said trade and remittances by immigrants in the United States should be taken into account.

"I would ask people when you think about the American assistance to the people of Latin America to look at the full, broad gauge of American engagement, not just what the government does, but what business does, what the [nongovernmental organization] does, what trade does, remittances, all the rest," he said. "It is a huge project, and it is all aimed at helping the people of Latin America."

Baker reported from Sao Paulo.

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