Bush scuffles with Chilean guards at summit
by David Rennie
The president went to South America to counter suggestions of arrogance but shambles at dinner leaves his hosts unimpressed.
A state visit by President George W. Bush to Chile, intended to counter Latin American talk of Washington's "arrogance", ended in a diplomatic shambles last night when the Chilean president cancelled a banquet because US Secret Service guards demanded to check guests for weapons.
The Americans insisted that the nearly 300 guests, including the president of the Chilean senate, the head of the Chilean supreme court, the top commanders of each branch of the Chilean military and their wives, should pass through metal detector arches before they be permitted to dine near Mr Bush at the presidential palace in Santiago.
President Ricardo Lagos scrapped the state banquet in favour of a "working dinner" with Mr Bush in his private dining room.
The cancellation came after days of mounting disputes between Mr Bush's security detail and the Chilean palace guard, a branch of the Carabineros paramilitary police force.
A senior Chilean diplomat told a local newspaper, El Mercurio: "President Lagos considered it unacceptable that the principal leaders of the nation, and distinguished business leaders should be forced to submit to an inspection that approached humiliation."
Both sides accused the other of over-zealousness, with Chilean officials mocking US agents for peering and reaching inside two antique cannon in the palace to make sure they could not be fired at Mr Bush.
The tensions spilled over into an extraordinary scuffle on Saturday, in which Mr Bush waded into a crowd of Chilean security personnel to rescue his own chief bodyguard, Nick Trotta, who was being prevented from following his boss into a dinner for Asia-Pacific leaders, part of an Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) summit that preceded yesterday's brief state visit.
Mr Bush, hearing Mr Trotta's frantic protests, reached over two lines of people to grab him by the lapel, telling startled Chilean security: "He's with me". Mr Bush then walked into the dinner, shaking his head in disbelief, and straightening his right shirt cuff.
Chilean guards were also involved in a shoving match with Chinese bodyguards accompanying President Hu Jintao at the Apec summit, successfully preventing the Chinese guards from following their head of state into a meeting with Mr Lagos.
The first day of the Apec summit was marred by riots in Santiago.
The tensions surrounding Mr Bush's double visit offered a vivid symbol of the toxic state of relations between the United States and Latin America. The continent has taken a sharp turn to the Left since Mr Bush first came to office in 2000, with spiralling economic woes being blamed by locals on outside forces, including globalisation, reforms urged by the International Monetary Fund and the aggressive and predatory business practices of some Western banks and businessmen.
Dislike and suspicion of Washington has swept Latin America, fuelled by the rhetoric of populist political leaders, anger at the Iraq war, and historical resentment at US backing for dictatorial anti-communist regimes during the Cold War.
To many in Latin America, the palace of La Moneda is first and foremost the place where the Leftist president, Salvador Allende, took his own life with a machine gun during the successful coup by Gen Augusto Pinochet, a coup that was welcomed, if not actively supported, by the United States.
Mr Bush is also accused of neglecting Latin America since September 11.