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Mon, Nov 07, 2005 - Page 12 News List

Bush, Chavez both claim victory

AMERICAS SUMMIT The US president said progress had been made, while Venezuela's leader praised the five nations that opposed outright a free-trade deal for the Americas

AFP , MAR DEL PLATA, ARGENTINA

Argentina's President Nestor Kirchner, second from left, talks with Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe, right, and Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, second from right, as Argentina Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna, left, Argentina's Interior Minister Alberto Fernandez and Argentina's Head of Cabinet Anibal Fernandez look on, on Saturday at the Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, Argentina.

PHOTO: AP

US President George W. Bush and one of his fiercest critics in the Americas, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, both have claimed victory on the divisive issue of regional free trade.

In a battle of ideologies played out at the 34-nation Summit of the Americas, Bush's capitalist, free-trade agenda was countered by Chavez's brand of "21st-century socialism."

And while Chavez did not succeed in "burying" a US-led plan for a free trade area from Canada to Chile, five countries including Venezuela did successfully block Bush's push to set a date to resume negotiations on the deal.

"Today the big loser was Mr Bush," Chavez declared after the summit ended, praising the summit and dubbing the five countries "the five musketeers."

"We have never had such an intense, frank and profound debate in the past seven years," he said.

The 34 member nations signed a final declaration with 29 nations prepared to resume talks next year and five, including Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela, flat-out opposed to the deal.

"We went from a summit which was supposed to bury FTAA to a summit in which all 34 countries actually talk in terms of enhanced trade ... recognizing there are challenges," US national security adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters aboard a plane taking Bush from Argentina to Brazil.

The White House, looking to put the best possible face on the gathering, quickly released a long list of what it said were achievements at the summit, including, for example, that Bush, on the economic front, "encouraged his fellow leaders to make the strategic leap from commitment to achievement, and emphasized that words must lead to results."

During the two-day meeting that opened on Friday at the seaside resort of Mar del Plata, the archrivals carefully kept their distance, except for the traditional group photo of leaders.

Chavez applauded Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, who criticized the US and the IMF in the summit's opening address.

"What a great truth and how good it is that in Mar del Plata President Kirchner has come to say it to millions: The Washington consensus is broken; we are looking for a new model," Chavez said.

Bush, who never came precisely face to face with Chavez, had said he would be "polite" if they ran into each other because "that's what the American people expect their president to do, is to be a polite person."

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