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No Escape

By Andy Urban, PhD candidate in History at the University of Minnesota. IHRC Affiliated Faculty

So much for a bit of a vacation. In recent months, to use an apt cliché, trouble seems to follow President George W. Bush wherever he goes. His weeklong visit to various Central and Southern American countries that ended on March 14, was not a trip marked by Guatemalans, Mexicans, and so on, greeting him with open arms. To begin with, Bush’s entire relationship to this region has been troubled by an unfulfilled promise – that his presidency would pay greater attention to Central and Southern American countries than his predecessors in the Clinton administration. After September 11, this promise went out the window. In addition, Bush’s trip to the region was shadowed by a strategically timed jaunt undertaken by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Chavez took the opportunity to bash Bush as it were, whenever the opportunity presented itself. Although I am personally no fan of Chavez’s recent acts of censorship over the Venezuelan media, it is nonetheless enjoyable to see him dog the President and ruin the staged visits he was making. Add to all of this the protests that accompanied Bush’s visit – some of which ended in violence and perhaps excessive police force against demonstrators (as the very last paragraph of this LA Times article describes [link]), and you can see why the man often chooses to squirrel himself away in Texas.

Not surprisingly, everywhere Bush went immigration was raised as a key topic – although again, maybe not the topic Bush himself wanted to talk about. In Guatemala, President Óscar Berger confronted Bush directly about a raid on a Massachusetts sweatshop that resulted in upwards of 300 undocumented immigrants being captured and processed for deportation. As an article in Business Week notes, “A number of [the undocumented immigrants] sent to Texas for deportation were Guatemalan women, many of whose children were stranded at day-care centers.? [link] Bush’s response to Berger was, that, “I’m sure they don’t want to be sent home, but nevertheless, we enforce laws.? So much for family values.

Alfredo Corchado, writing for the Dallas Morning News, begins his article on Bush’s visit to Mexico and his meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderon with a clever pun about how Bush sought to “mend fences with weary Mexicans.? [link] It is difficult to mend fences when the proposal to build a 700-mile fence still angers and antagonizes Mexicans to no end. Although funding for the project has not been approved, the fence remains on the table. Calderon expressed doubt that even a fence would do anything to stop immigration, given the close links between the two countries, and also wondered publicly whether Bush and Congress would successfully pass any type of immigration reform before he was out of office. At least he treated Bush to a tour of some ancient ruins.

As all of the above articles note, one of the consistent themes in Bush’s visits was his promotion of free trade, and a policy that he believes will alleviate poverty and therefore the need for Central and Southern Americans to emigrate. To his hosts, more concerned with other issues, this must have sounded a bit like a prerecorded message, and not a live interaction.


Andy Urban is a PhD candidate in History at the University of Minnesota, and a member of the IHRC Advisory Council. His research focuses on Irish and Chinese domestic servants in the late-nineteenth century United States.
Contact Information: urba0090@umn.edu

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