During his trip to Latin America, one of President Bush’s goals is to “challenge a widespread perception in Latin America of U.S. neglect,” and he has been telling the region’s chronic poor, “We care about your plight.” (In his speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Bush used the phrase “social justice” five times.) “It’s an attempt to try to show a softer, gentler Bush,” Armand Peschard-Sverdrup of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said.
While in Brazil, Bush brought this message to a Sao Paulo, Brazil community center that houses poor children:
President Bush has brought an unaccustomed message for Latin Americans on his weeklong swing through the region: I feel your pain. And he is taking it to some unaccustomed places — hotbeds of poverty and disaffection that he generally has missed on earlier trips.
“There are a lot of hurting people in the world, a lot of hurting people in Brazil,” Mr. Bush said as he toured a ramshackle community center in S£o Paulo Friday, a facility that cares for 3,000 children a week from the city’s vast slums. “And the people in the United States care.”
But as the Latin America Working Group (LAWG) points out, the Bush administration’s latest budget outline slashes economic aid to Brazil:
The budget also cuts total aid for Latin America from $1.6 billion this year to $1.45 billion for 2008. “The smaller, poorer countries that could use some aid are unlikely to get much relief,” Business Week recently reported, “since U.S. assistance to the region, currently around $1.6 billion annually, is set to drop next year. And the biggest chunk of that aid is aimed not at poverty relief but at helping Colombia battle drug trafficking and a 40-year-old leftist insurgency.”
“In the short term, [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez has more to offer because our aid is peanuts,” said Johns Hopkins’ Riordan Roett. “We’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars, and he’s tossing around a billion here and a billion there.” As the New York Times writes, “A lot more will be needed if promoting social justice is to be more than a sound bite.”