MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina — President Bush is arriving at this seaside resort for the two-day Summit of the Americas that will begin on Friday morning.
The gathering of 32 leaders from the hemisphere — every country in the region except Cuba — is intended to focus on job creation as a key to long-term peace and prosperity. Along with the talks, though, the summit is also expected to draw large anti-Bush protests.
NBC News’ Laura Saravia reports from Mar Del Plata on the goals of the confab, the demonstrations led by Venezuela's Hugo Chavez that threaten to take center stage, and the massive security precautions in place.
What are the goals of the summit?
The goal ... is to make sure that all of the leaders in the Americas share the same policies and work in the same direction. The agenda for the summit is to discuss ways to create jobs, fight poverty and strengthen democratic governance.
The leaders will arrive here throughout the day on Thursday. The meetings and the inauguration of the summit will happen on Friday at the seaside resort if Mar Del Plata and will conclude on Sunday evening.
As with many recent gatherings of global leaders, protests demonstrations are anticipated. What sort of actions are expected?
There have been no direct threats to the security of the summit, but leftist activists, primarily from Latin America, are holding an alternative People’s Summit in Mar Del Plata as well.
A large demonstration planned for Friday will be lead by Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona and Bolivian social leader Evo Morales, with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Bush’s most out-spoken critic in the region, expected to address the crowd of 50,000 that organizers anticipate. A large group of activists are expected to arrive from Buenos Aires early on Friday morning and march across the city to a large soccer stadium where Chavez will speak.
Local media has also reported that Cindy Sheehan, the American anti-war activist, will also attend the rally.
The demonstration is expected to be basically an anti-Bush march. Many people in Argentina are protesting against Bush’s participation in this summit, the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), the war in Iraq and against Bush’s policies towards the region.
People are also protesting the Free Trade Agreement because they believe that it will create pockets of progress in certain countries, but that the benefits won’t be spread out throughout the whole region.
Local social organizations have called these days that Bush will be in Argentina “Days of Sorrow.” Local unions have called for strikes throughout the country and other anti-Bush protests are expected in Buenos Aires and over 200 Argentine cities.
What are some of the issues that the leaders attending the summit are expected agree on or clash on?
Most important, the leaders at the summit are expected to agree on making employment the central focus of the hemispheric agenda. They will be issuing a statement against poverty and discrimination, and trying to implement policies to raise people’s standards of living. They are also expected to issue a statement on security for the whole region as well.
I think that the issues that they are expected to clash on will be local policies. President Bush has also told an Argentinian newspaper that he will express his concerns about Argentina selling nuclear reactors to Venezuela.
Bush and Chavez's clear disagreements over trade and development are expected to take center stage.
What kind of security preparations have been made?
Security is extremely tight. There is a whole area that has been blocked by a security ring where the leaders will stay. Many local residents have been asked to leave the area or they have been issued a special ID card, without which they can not access the area.
Security is basically in the hands of the Argentine military and the Argentine federal police. We’ve seen ships, helicopters and also anti-riot and anti-explosive units that have been placed throughout the area.
Many U.S.-owned companies, like Blockbuster video stores and Citibank branches, have taken extra precautions to protect themselves ahead of the protest marches expected on Friday.
How significant is it that the summit that revolves around the issue of trade will be held in Argentina? Particularly since Argentina’s economy is still recovering from the financial crash it suffered from in 2001?
One of the main issues for Argentina, which it needs the support of the U.S. and the entire region, is the re-negotiation of its debt. The country accrued a large debt with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as a result of the financial meltdown in 2001. So basically Argentina is trying to get support for handling its debt and getting flexibility for handling its debt.
Bush said in an interview with an Argentine newspaper that he is happy to help Argentina and he praised Argentina’s President Nestor Kirchner for his latest negotiations with the IMF, in which Washington participated.
He also praised the progress of the Argentine economy, saying that it has grown in a strong way, but it needs to be sustained. Bush said that the Argentine government doesn’t need intermediaries in dealing with the IMF because they have done a good job with that.