The 5-Minute Briefing: Condoleezza Rice's tour of Latin America

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The Independent US

Why is US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Latin America?

Why is US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Latin America?

She will visit Brazil, Colombia and Chile, where she was yesterday, and El Salvador. Officially it is a long-scheduled diplomatic visit by the new Secretary of State. But there are growing concerns in Washington that the US is to losing influence in the region after the election of several left-wing leaders. In Brazil, Ms Rice met the left-wing leader President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and urged Brazil to join the US in what she described as a "partnership of multiethnic nations" promoting democracy. In a speech she used the words "freedom" and "liberty" 16 times and "democratic" more than 50 times.

Why is the trip controversial?

Many in Latin America are suspicious of the US and its motives after decades of political interference, support of right-wing dictators and undermining of left-wing elected governments. US policy in Latin America has been condemned for undermining the kind of democracy Ms Rice talks of spreading. But for many in Latin America - and increasingly for people from Brazil - the US remains their dream. The number of illegal immigrants entering the US has never been greater.

How has the election of so many left-wing governments affected US relations with Latin America?

Ms Rice recently said the US would have no trouble working with a left-wing government after she was asked about the possible election of a socialist president in Mexico. It is not just Brazil's Lula and President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela: before the uprising in Ecuador the people of Uruguay elected their first left-wing leader in 170 years. These governments are seeking political and economic relationships. This month Brazil and China announced a military co-operation pact. Venezuela has been reaching out not just to China but to countries such as Iran.

How serious is the fall-out between the US and Venezuela?

Very. Mr Chavez's outspoken criticism of the Bush administration has made him a hero to millions . At the weekend, Mr Chavez ended the 35-year military relationship with the US. The country provides 15 per cent of US oil imports and, given the soaring cost of crude, the Chavez government is riding high. He has even claimed Ms Rice is romantically interested in him. The US is also an ally of Colombia, one of Venezuela's more testing neighbours.

What does this have to do with Cuba?

Plenty. Cuba remains America's bogeyman in the region and Washington regards the regime of Fidel Castro as an "outpost of tyranny". But for many in Latin America, President Castro is a hero who stood up to US imperialism. The Cuban leader has sent doctors to help staff Chavez's medical projects in the barrios of Caracas. This week, Venezuelan companies have been showing off their goods at a trade fair in Havanaand Chavez and Castro are said to be good friends.