March 24, 2002 - LA Times: Bush touts reestablishment of the Peace Corps in Peru

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Bush touts reestablishment of the Peace Corps in Peru

Bush touts reestablishment of the Peace Corps in Peru

President Discusses Trade in Tense Peru Talks with Toledo also focus on drugs and peace while authorities break up protests. Critics at home say U.S. leader is pandering to Latinos.

By EDWIN CHEN and GREG MILLER, Times Staff Writers

LIMA, Peru -- President Bush arrived Saturday in this tense but heavily fortified capital with his goal of promoting hemispheric trade all but overshadowed by a feared resurgence of terrorism in Peru and by a political attack at home from Democrats who accused him of pandering to Latinos.

Shortly before he was accorded a red-carpet, 21-gun-salute welcome by Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo, authorities downtown used tear gas to disperse dozens of anti-American demonstrators.

But back in the U.S., there was nothing to prevent Democrats from using their weekly radio address Saturday to portray Bush's four-day Latin American trip as a cynical ploy to "curry favor with Latino voters."

The attack, leveled by former Los Angeles mayoral candidate and California Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, was unusual because partisan rhetoric traditionally is held in abeyance while a president is overseas.

Bush is the first incumbent U.S. president to visit Peru. Late in the afternoon, he and Toledo emerged from their third face-to-face meeting for a joint news conference that showcased their congeniality.

Toledo observed that although he and Bush are the same age--55--Bush seems younger. Bush quipped, in a mixture of Spanish and English: "We may be the same age, but he has black hair."

The two men's bonhomie gave no hint of the extraordinary security here--required in part because of Bush's 17-hour visit but all the more so in the wake of a powerful car-bomb blast that killed nine people Wednesday night near the U.S. Embassy. American officials said the act had all the earmarks of the Shining Path, the leftist guerrilla group whose activities have diminished in recent years.

Some sections of Lima were closed altogether, while in many other parts of the city, soldiers and police in riot gear and armored vehicles were deployed. Snipers could be seen on downtown rooftops as helicopters hovered overhead and frigates patrolled off the coast.

Among the panoply of bilateral initiatives that Bush touted here was the reestablishment of the Peace Corps in Peru--27 years after its presence was ended by an anti-U.S. regime.

The first of the Peace Corps volunteers are expected back in August, Bush said.

Toledo has a personal connection to the program: Years ago, Peace Corps volunteers helped him win a scholarship to study in the United States.

Bush also said the U.S. Agency for International Development will work to create centers to improve teacher training not only in Peru but also in Colombia.

When talk turned to fighting drugs, Bush said the U.S. must curtail its demand for drugs as well as help countries such as Peru wage an interdiction campaign.

"So we've got a double obligation," he said.

The president hailed Toledo's democratic and pro-market reforms in this impoverished nation, where more than 54% of the population of 25.7 million lives in poverty.

Afterward, Bush and Toledo met with the presidents of Bolivia and Colombia and the vice president of Ecuador to discuss trade and, specifically, Bush's so-far-unsuccessful efforts to persuade the Senate to renew the Andean Trade Preference Act.

The 1991 act, which gives the four Andean countries duty-free access to the U.S. market for a variety of products, expired Dec. 4.

The measure exempting a number of Andean products from U.S. tariffs was enacted initially as part of a U.S. anti-drug effort designed to help turn Andean economies away from the production and export of cocaine to the U.S. market.

An expanded version of the act passed the House last fall, but a watered-down one has stalled in the Senate. As a result, duties have been reimposed on all Andean products.

According to a Bush administration official, the president of one Latin American country said: "The Senate is mañana-ing this to death." The official would not identify the speaker.

The Democratic radio broadcast in the United States, meanwhile, underscored the struggle between the two major parties for the increasingly influential Latino vote, especially with control of both houses of Congress in the balance in the November elections.

Villaraigosa's remarks were the second time in a year that a prominent Democrat has spoken out against the popular Bush while the president was traveling. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) accused the president of isolationism last summer just as Bush was departing for a trip to Europe.

In his address, Villaraigosa argued that it is the Democratic Party, and not the GOP, that is the true voice of Latino voters.

"The president's trip this weekend to Latin America is part of an orchestrated strategy to curry favor with Latino voters," he said, predicting that many Latinos would agree.

"Our community knows the difference between rhetoric and results," Villaraigosa said.

"Republicans have little to offer other than platitudes and token gestures," he contended. "The Republican pursuit of Hispanic votes is a calculated political strategy. For us, it's an extension of our values."

Villaraigosa ignored or dismissed some recent developments that might complicate the Democrats' claim to Latino loyalty. For instance, the GOP-controlled House recently approved a measure that would allow thousands of migrants who entered the United States illegally or have overstayed visas to apply for legal residence without returning to their home countries.

But the Democrat-controlled Senate has yet to act--a fact that Bush was quick to point out Friday in Mexico.

The president has launched an array of bilateral initiatives with Mexico--ranging from incentives for business investments to immigration reforms--that is strongly supported by Mexican President Vicente Fox.

Bush, in his own weekly radio address, also focused on his Latin America trip, which began with a two-day visit to Monterrey, Mexico, where he announced a new U.S. funding proposal for global assistance at a U.N. conference on global aid and then met with Fox.

Bush said in his address that his trip was designed to "reaffirm the central importance I place on American relations with the rest of our hemisphere"--a priority that he has made clear from the earliest days of his administration.

Before returning to Washington today, Bush is to stop in San Salvador and meet with the leaders of El Salvador, Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras and Panama.

* * *

Chen reported from Lima and Miller from Washington.

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Story Source: LA Times

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