REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK : Hugs Out, Handshakes In, as Bush Gives South America Some Respect
The abrazos (embraces) have been rare. The tone has been businesslike. After all, President Bush has been on what one network correspondent dubbed “The Aretha Franklin Tour.” You know, R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
That’s what the democratically elected presidents with whom the President has met over the past week, from Brazil to Uruguay, from Argentina to Chile and Venezuela, have demanded. That’s what he’s dished out.
Never mind that he has spent the year looking eastward, toward Europe and the Middle East. Now is the time to remind the restored democracies of South America--where effusive Latin embraces have apparently been ruled out in favor of a more businesslike, warm handshake among presidents--that the United States is interested in them too.
When Richard M. Nixon visited here in 1958 as vice president, the rioting that erupted became the standard by which all other anti-American riots were measured, and not many have come close.
But the only truly rocky moment on Bush’s trip, which ends today here on the north coast of the continent, came as the fleet of aircraft in which he, his staff and accompanying reporters were flying crossed the Andes Mountains from Buenos Aires to Santiago, Chile, on Thursday.
Strong winds blowing eastward from the Pacific Ocean to the Andes tossed the airplanes up, down and sideways. The pilot of a chartered Pan American World Airways Boeing 747 carrying the press contingent rated the incidents of turbulence among “the top five” of his 30 years of flying.
Aboard Air Force One, a new Boeing 747, the passengers were told in advance to buckle up--a rare warning aboard the President’s plane--after the Pan Am pilot, flying ahead, warned the Air Force crew that it was headed for rough air.
“The sensation of a 747 behaving like a Piper Cub is pretty interesting,” said White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater. He said Bush made no mention of the problem.
Aboard a backup airplane, a Boeing 707 used as Air Force One until September, a Secret Service agent who had not been warned of the rough air was in the aisle when the plane was tossed about. He was tossed to the floor, crashing so violently into an armrest that it was torn from a seat. He was reported to have suffered a broken arm.
The trip back across the Andes on Friday, as the three aircraft headed north from Chile to Venezuela, was much less dramatic.
First Lady Barbara Bush begged off the weeklong journey, nursing what White House aides said was a low-grade sinus infection. Her place was taken by her 30-year-old daughter, Dorothy Bush LeBlond, who kept a low profile and, in some of her public appearances, looked like she might have preferred a low-grade sinus infection to sitting in at state dinners.
But she dutifully filled in, from a hospital tour in Brasilia, Brazil, to a rodeo, with her father, in Buenos Aires.
For a Texan--albeit an adoptive one--Bush has never appeared to be much of a rodeo fan. Nor is he a horse rider. His interest in horses seems to end at the shoe, which he tosses with great fervor at every opportunity.
Nevertheless, Argentine President Carlos Saul Menem presented Bush with two spiffy horses from the land of the pampas and the gaucho. U.S. protocol chief Joseph V. Reed said they would probably be stabled at Camp David.
They’d better not leave their shoes lying around.
And now for a brief lesson in Bushspeak.
President Luis Alberto Lacalle of Uruguay, who speaks fluent English with just a trace of a British accent, opened a press conference at Edificio Libertad, the seat of the executive branch of government in Montevideo, by saying that although he recognized that Bush was “the important figure here . . . I would also be prepared to answer any questions in my broken English, which is, of course, our common language here.”
If broken English is the common tongue, Bush proved moments later to be a willing partner.
Completing his explanation of the Administration’s view on a Middle East peace conference, Bush said: “I know what I’ve told you I’m going to say I’m going to say. And what else I’d say, well, I’ll take some time to figure that all out.”
Not perfectly fractured, but what do you want for off the cuff?
In Chile, President Patricio Aylwin said to Bush, who earlier in the day had delivered an address to the Chilean Congress: “I congratulate you for your oratorical abilities. You are a great speaker.”
Bush, giving a laugh of undisguised incredulity, replied, “Oh, no.”
As for Lacalle, the success of Bush’s 21 1/2-hour visit to the second-smallest country in South America is yet to be measured, at least in personal terms.
He confided to reporters in October that he had a lifelong ambition to see his name and picture in Time magazine. His predecessor rated half a column and a picture, he said. So the week after he was elected, he anxiously turned the pages of the magazine, only to be disappointed.
The U.S. President’s visit, he figured, would be his next-best chance. He’ll have to wait a day or two yet to find out whether his ambition will be fulfilled.
From Valparaiso, the seaport where Chile’s Congress sits, comes word that Vice President Dan Quayle has helped to boost the local economy.
When Quayle attended Aylwin’s inauguration there in March, he bought a carved, wooden doll. When its torso was lifted, it became what has euphemistically been described as an anatomically correct male fertility symbol. It was being sold then for $4.
News reports of the vice president’s purchase were flashed around the world, and the doll is now selling for $8.