Bill Cormier/ AP
The Boston Globe
February 9, 2007
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina --A top U.S. official said Washington was willing to work with most of Latin America's leftist governments but criticized Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's moves to nationalize industries as a return to the "failed policies of the past."
U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns and Thomas Shannon, the top U.S. diplomat for Latin America, met Friday with leftist Argentine President Nestor Kirchner during a visit seen as an attempt to counter the influence of Chavez, a fierce U.S. critic who has used windfall oil profits to gain allies in the region.
Burns said Washington respects all fairly elected leaders and is committed to "open channels" with democratic governments, including recently elected leftists Evo Morales in Bolivia and Rafael Correa in Ecuador.
"You will find our government is very ecumenical. We deal with left governments, center governments, right governments," he said. As for "the far-left radical governments of Cuba and Venezuela ... that's another matter."
The U.S. delegation's visit to Argentina comes on the heels of the White House's announcement that President Bush will tour Latin America in March, visiting Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico.
That trip, the White House said, would underscore U.S. commitment to democratic governments in the region, where most have warm ties with Chavez, who has called Bush "the devil."
Burns praised Argentina for its "leadership role" in Latin America in opposing terrorism and nuclear proliferation, but had harsh words for Chavez's recent moves to nationalize strategic sectors and grant himself the power to rule largely by decree for 18 months have alarmed critics.
Critics charge Chavez is steering his Venezuela toward Cuban-style communism, while his supporters say he is trying to help the poor and counter historic U.S. domination of the region.
"In our judgment, the policies of Chavez to nationalize industries and return to state socialism mark a return to the failed policies of the past," Burns said.
"Frankly, you have to wonder if Chavez's plan is to become president for life, which is also at variance with the trends in this region and most other regions around the world...."
Meanwhile, Burns lauded Argentine support for Washington's efforts to check nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea.
"What Argentina is doing I think as the leader in South America, indeed in all of Latin America, is saying to the world that we all need to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons," he added.
He also cited Argentina as one of two key hemispheric partners with Washington on drafting new international regulations for better safeguarding ports and shipping containers from possible terrorist threats.