Bush faces showdown with Chavez 'the Kid'

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The Independent US

Can you imagine one of the leaders at the G8 summit slipping out between sessions, through the security cordon, to join in a street demonstration of bearded anoraks against the summit's most powerful participant, George Bush?

Something similar looks like happening today when Mr Bush attends a summit of 34 western hemisphere leaders - that's everyone in the Americas and the Caribbean except Fidel Castro, who has long been banned - in the Argentinian beach resort of Mar del Plata. Mr Bush's latest nemesis, the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, dubbed "the new Castro," has said he will leave the summit in between sessions to take part in an alternative "People's Summit" and lead, along with the former Argentinian football star Diego Maradona, a protest march against Mr Bush.

It's a nightmare for the 7,500 police and troops that Argentina has drafted into the Atlantic resort for the Americas Summit on Friday and Saturday. Already, US and Venezuelan security agents, armed but in plain clothes, are mingling with the resort's population.

South America's media are billing it as a Wild West showdown between the world's would-be Wyatt Earp - President Bush - and the Billy the Kid-style figure of Mr Chavez. The US President was apparently considering staying away from the summit until Mr Chavez implied that Mr Bush was afraid to face him.

Mr Chavez has called the US a "terrorist administration" and accused Mr Bush of planning to assassinate him and invade Venezuela for its oil. The fact that the American television evangelist Pat Robertson suggested a couple of months ago that it would be a good idea to kill him added fuel to the fire. A Bush spokesman at the time said that Robertson's comments - though not the idea itself - were "inappropriate".

Mr Bush blames Mr Chavez for trying to export his Castro-style "revolution". Like Mr Castro, Mr Chavez undoubtedly aspires to do so, but the fact that five Latin American nations have swung to the left during Mr Bush's presidency has had more to do with mistrust of the free market and monetary policies of Washington than Mr Chavez's growing influence.

Mr Bush's late announcement that he would attend the summit suggested he had thought twice, either for security reasons or through not relishing a confrontation with Mr Chavez.

Argentinians remain traumatised by two terrorist attacks against Jewish targets in the early 1990s - the Israeli embassy and a busy community centre - in which more than 100 died. No one has been convicted but much evidence pointed to Islamic militants from Iran.