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CNN BREAKING NEWS
Riots Break Out In Argentina
Aired November 4, 2005 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ALEC MIRAN, CNN PRODUCER: You know, and most of it, they just seem to be, you know, spiteful, I guess, for lack of a better word. They would break the windows and then run away. But there's probably, oh, just what I've seen, and I haven't gone all the way down the route yet, 10, 20 businesses that have had their windows -- you know, their windows completely shattered. And these are, you know, huge plate- glass windows, and there's glass lying everywhere in the street.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's just after 5:00 p.m. here on the East Coast of the United States, just after 7:00 p.m. in Mar del Plata in Argentina.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. We're continuing our coverage of the Summit of the Americas here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
Our chief national correspondent, John King, is with us. We have reporters on the scene. Lucia Newman is there in Argentina, Dana Bash is there as well, Alec Miran, our producer, is covering these demonstrations.
It's been about two hours now since it turned ugly. There had been peaceful demonstrations. Thousands of people had gathered peacefully earlier today to protest this summit, to protest the visit of the president of the United States.
But in the past two hours or so, it turned very, very ugly.
On the right side you see some new video we're getting in of the violence. Up in the left-hand corner, you see a live picture of the president of the United States. This plenary session, this first formal session, is about to begin after the class photo. A very beautiful room that has been established for all the leaders of the Western Hemisphere.
Lucia Newman is on the scene for us in Mar Del Plata. Lucia, live pictures all around. What is going to happen right now, as far as the leaders are concerned?
LUCIA NEWMAN, CNN HAVANA BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Wolf, they're on their way to the plenary session. This whole summit is very, very much running off-schedule. They're an hour and a half late. And, in fact, they should have been here already getting ready for the dinner.
But they're entering the plenary session. That's where the leaders discuss what's on the agenda. And apart from trade, what they're supposed to be discussing -- in fact, it's kind of the title of this whole summit -- is ways to reduce poverty and unemployment in the region as a way of promoting democracy.
Now, the big issue, Wolf, of course, is, how to achieve that. President Bush very clearly thinks it's free trade. Others, including Latin American giants such as Argentina, Brazil, say free trade is OK, but the United States has to make major concessions, in terms of agricultural subsidies, for example.
And then you've got, of course, Hugo Chavez, who says, No free trade at all, down with it. In fact, Wolf, he said, I have come here to Mar del Plata with a shovel in my hand to bury the free trade agreement of the Americas and to promote an anti-capitalistic agenda, socialism for the new millennium.
That's what he's talking about. That's what the people out on the street are cheering, not so much, though, the regional leaders, Wolf.
BLITZER: And remind our viewers a little bit more about the absence of Fidel Castro. Does he actually make an effort to try to come to these summits, or does he just understand he's not invited?
NEWMAN: It's very clear you're not invited, because he's not a member of the Organization of American States. In fact, Cuba was kicked out of that organization after -- shortly after President Fidel Castro took power. He says he doesn't want to be invited. He doesn't share any of the ideals or goals of the summiteers, if you like. Maybe that's because he feels maybe spited.
But he -- this is the fourth Summit of the Americas. He has never been invited to any of them. It's considered by the organizers and by the other members of the Organization of American States that Cuba does not qualify, because it's not a full democracy, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Lucia, stand by.
John King, if these demonstrators wanted to make a statement and get their protests seen and heard around the world, they succeeded.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They have succeeded, again. I should note this is now a trend that goes back eight or 10 years, started during the Clinton years. It has been exacerbated during the Bush years, as the protesters refine their tactics, as the leaders tend to isolate themselves more, which creates the dichotomy in the pictures.
But the leaders, of course, want to go about their business, because much as the president says, when it comes to terrorism, if you let them disrupt you, they win. So the leaders will go about their business. And it will fall, I think, to President Kirchner of Argentina to explain the scenes on the street.
And again, there are two different groups on the street, we should make clear. We're watching the violent demonstrators. The great number of people come to demonstrate peacefully against the trade and economic issues Lucia and Dana have been discussing from Argentina. But invariably, in the past few years, this is what gets the most attention because of the destruction, the chaos, and the violence so close to leaders of the world, 30-something leaders of the world.
BLITZER: And you make a good point. There may be, let's say, 1,000 of these violent anarchists who are causing all this damage. But there were tens of thousands of others who protested very peacefully earlier in the days. And there are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of other (INAUDIBLE) people in Argentina who are very happy to be welcoming these leaders and welcome what's going on. So let's keep some perspective about all of this.
Alec, are you still there near the demonstrations, and are they still continuing?
MIRAN: Wolf, we are in transit, I guess would be the best way to describe it. We're trying to do a little reporting for you. We've moved a little bit further, I guess it's north on Avenida Colon. We just passed Avenue Independencia, which is the other really big, huge major thoroughfare here in Mar del Plata, probably another six-lane street. We think that the demonstrators might have pulled back to this general area, but no signs yet.
BLITZER: Lucia Newman, talk a little bit about, give us some perspective, if you will, because you've covered, as you point out, every one of these Summit of the Americas over the years. They go back, I think the first one was during the early -- the first or second term of the Clinton administration. I covered that one, it was in Miami.
But talk a little bit about how this whole summit process from the Western Hemisphere has evolved.
NEWMAN: Wolf, let me correct you. The first one wasn't Miami. But it was George Bush, Senior, who was president. And I remember very well, that is when they announced the whole idea of trying to create this hemispheric free-trade zone, the largest trading block in the world, it's being billed as, it was billed as. And it was presumed, it was expected that by now, this all would be in -- would be working. It would be an actual done deal.
But as we've seen, it's been totally stalled. When President Clinton was in office, again they talked about free trade. It's been such a contentious issue that, in fact, it wasn't even technically on the agenda here. And President Bush has been fighting, and so has Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, to at least get a mention of an intention to bring about this free trade agreement in the final declaration at this summit, Wolf.
BLITZER: I seem to remember, Lucia, Mack McLarty, who was the White House chief of staff under Bill Clinton, very much involved in organizing that Miami summit.
But John, do you remember that first Miami summit of the hemisphere? KING: I do. And that was when the President Clinton formalized it as a leaders' meeting. They decided then it would be an annual event when they formalized it in Miami. And President Clinton, remember, at the time, this was more domestic politics here in the United States, faced a great deal of opposition, because it was NAFTA, and then -- obviously, and then from there, the growth throughout the region, which was trade union -- the Democratic Party, Mr. Clinton being the leader of the Democratic Party at the time, revolted against him when he put the free-trade agenda essentially at the forefront of American politics.
It has been quite controversial in this country since, and more and more so globally.
BLITZER: Yes, these are live pictures that we're getting in as well from the demonstration.
Lucia, are you still there?
But we are going to pick it up during the first President Bush. They did have a summit of the hemisphere. And I believe it was in Brazil, but I -- you know, my memory is not as good today as it used to be, John, unlike yours.
But these are very serious issues right now. Let me set the scene once again. The demonstrations on the streets of Mar del Plata in Argentina, demonstrations that turned very violent, very ugly just a little while ago. These are live pictures you're seeing. The police are there en masse right now.
Inside, the first formal plenary session of the summit is about to take place. We're looking at these live pictures on the upper left-hand part of your screen, coming from inside, leaders from North America, Central America, South America. There's Vicente Fox, the president of Mexico, himself one of the major leaders in the Western Hemisphere.
They're trying to deal with their business, their agenda, even as, only a few blocks away, the demonstrations continue.
Alec, I'm going to bring it back to you, because you're there near the demonstrators. Is it getting dark on the streets now?
Alec, are you there?
MIRAN: Wolf, Wolf, are you talking to me?
BLITZER: Yes. Is it getting dark on the streets there?
MIRAN: Dusk, I think, is the way to describe it.
Let me give you a little update. As I speak to you, we've moved further up Avenida Colon. Asked several people here, you know, Where are the demonstrators? They seem to have dispersed. As Lucia noted, I think it was Lucia, or perhaps John, that they tend to like to come back in waves. They don't give up easily.
As I speak to you, you may hear the clomping of hooves. There are 20 horses, you know, police on horseback, going up Avenida Colon. Presumably, these are some of the horses we saw behind the barricades earlier. They are moving up, I guess it's north, on Avenida Colon. We've now passed Independencia, and we're up at a few blocks (INAUDIBLE). This is the area where the demonstrators were last seen.
Like I said, they seem to have, if not vanished for good, vanished temporarily. The police helicopter that was hovering over them is not in sight anymore. Helicopters have to refuel. He might have gone to refuel, I just don't know.
But it is sort of eerily calm here as the sun starts to set in Mar del Plata, Wolf.
BLITZER: Do the (INAUDIBLE) historically, Alec, do the demonstrators, you know, continue to protest violently, these anarchists, whoever they are, at night, or is it a daytime activity?
MIRAN: Well, Wolf, you know, the protesters, as someone likes to point out to me that in different countries, they take on different profiles. I can't remember if it was you on the trip, or maybe John was, when President Clinton came to Buenos Aires seven, eight years, six years ago, maybe, and he arrived at night. And there were fairly large demonstrations that evening.
Don't know if it's the same group, same affiliation. But, you know, that was an evening protest, lot of property damage that time as well. Not nearly as violent as this one, but, you know, there's perhaps an (INAUDIBLE) for nighttime activity, I guess.
BLITZER: Yes, I was on that trip to Buenos Aires. I was covering the trip by then-president Bill Clinton to Argentina for that summit. Were you on that trip, John?
KING: Yes, sir.
BLITZER: All right, well, you were on plenty of other trips.
Dana Bash is on this trip. And she's joining us. Dana, are you joining us on the phone?
DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (on phone): I am, Wolf.
BLITZER: Have you been briefed by White House officials on what's going on?
BASH: Well, we were just told that the president was actually briefed about what's going on. He was told by his deputy chief of staff, Joe Hagen, about the riots that are happening not too far from where they're meeting now. He was actually told in between meetings, before he went into this plenary session, which you should be seeing start actually right now. The Argentinean president is starting it.
What they were told by Argentine authorities is that this is something that has stemmed, the riots have stemmed, from the preplanned civil disobedience. So the preplanned demonstrations, which we had been reporting on this morning, the Argentinean authorities are telling the White House that that is why this is happening. That's a battle we know that the president knows.
But one thing to sort of note, what we see now happening in the official summit, the president sitting down with other 33 leaders, and that includes the Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. And he, earlier today, was one of the demonstrators, if you will.
He was actually doing a pretty good job of egging the peaceful protesters on at a stadium not too far from where the leaders are meeting, what they called the anti-summit. And he was talking about trade, talking about what he calls the imperialist U.S., even saying that this is something that is -- absolutely should not happen, in his very bombastic way.
That is something that's happening right now, is, Hugo Chavez is sitting down with the president and the other world leaders. But as I think John King was pointing out, discussion is continuing there, certainly going on as planned, and trying to make it as if this is -- the riots something that certainly they don't welcome, but they're not unexpected.
BLITZER: And the president basically has several hours of this meeting now before dinner? Or what's the immediate next few hours for the president include?
BASH: Well, the summit is actually running quite late. This is a plenary session, the first sort of official meeting of these world leaders that should go on for at least an hour. And then he should, later this evening, as I told you earlier, have a sort of formal dinner with the world leaders who are gathered here.
BLITZER: This is the fourth summit, Dana and John. I just got this information. My memory's not as bad as probably a lot of our viewers might think. The first summit, summit number one, 1994, Miami. Summit number two was in Chile, summit number three, in Quebec City, 2001, and this is the fourth one in Mar del Plata.
Joining us now from the White House, Carlos Gutierrez. He's the U.S. Commerce Secretary.
I take it -- Are you at the White House or the Commerce Department, Mr. Secretary?
CARLOS GUTIERREZ, SECRETARY OF COMMERCE: I'm at the Commerce Department, Wolf.
BLITZER: OK, I'm sorry, I'll correct that.
Mr. Secretary, you see these images going on, a part of the world that you know quite well. The president is there with 33 other world leaders from the Western Hemisphere, and these angry demonstrations protesting globalization, protesting some of the free-trade area agreements, some of the economic policies, as well as protesting the president himself, the president of the United States.
What goes through your mind?
GUTIERREZ: Well, I'll tell you, Wolf, I was just in Buenos Aires a couple of days ago and met with a lot of business leaders and government officials. I think, you know, ironically, this is a great testament to the president's vision of democracy around the world. Some years back, not too long ago, many countries in South America couldn't do that. They couldn't demonstrate. They didn't have the freedom to go out and demonstrate or speak their mind.
And we're seeing democracy in action today.
The president's gone to Mar del Plata with a very positive agenda, an agenda of free trade, an agenda of prosperity, an agenda of job creation. And we've proven that in countries with which we have engaged in free trade. Chile is a great example. You know, their exports are up 30 percent. Our exports are up 30 percent since we started free trade.
The president had a breakfast meeting this morning, I understand, with the leaders of the Central America and the Dominican Republic. And they are just waiting to get on with the CAFTA-DR agreement that will start in January of 2006.
So there's a lot of positive momentum here, and the president has a very positive agenda that he's driving.
BLITZER: The president spoke earlier today, said he'd be polite if his paths crossed with the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez. And Lucia Newman and some of our reporters pointing out, John King is here with me here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Mr. Secretary, that there's a very tense political relationship between the United States and Venezuela. But the U.S. still imports a lot of oil from Venezuela, and that has to affect the relationship.
GUTIERREZ: Well, again, I'm not down there, but the president is -- has a very positive agenda. And I think the very important thing too is that the president is at this meeting with some very important results. And that counts, the fact that he's sitting at this table with the 33 other leaders, and he's got a GDP that just showed 3.8 percent growth, created 56,200 jobs over the last four weeks, and that's on top of 1.9 million new jobs over the past 12 months.
That makes a difference, that adds a great deal of credibility to the president's agenda in Mar del Plata, and to the U.S. as a nation.
BLITZER: While we're talking about the U.S. economy, "The Washington Post"-ABC News poll that's just come out has the president's handling of the economy down at an approval rating of only 36 percent, disapproval 61 percent. Why do you think only 36 percent of the American public in this poll -- and it's consistent with a lot of other polls, Mr. Secretary -- think the president's doing a good job handling the U.S. economy?
GUTIERREZ: Well, Wolf, as you know, the president doesn't manage through polls, he manages through results. And that's exactly what this economy has delivered. I mean, you go down every single number you can think of. GDP is up 3.8 percent. That's actually above the 12-month rolling average, which is 3.6 percent, and that's right after a quarter where everyone was making dire predictions as a result of Katrina and Rita.
We just created 56,200 jobs. And we're not saying we're satisfied. We want more jobs. But our unemployment is at 5 percent. That's below the average of the past three decades. More Americans are working today than ever before in our history. More Americans own a home today than ever before in our history.
You can just go down the list, Wolf. And what the president has delivered is results. And there's no quarreling with the facts, there's no quarreling with the results.
KING: Mr. Secretary, this is John King. It's good to see you, sir.
I want to ask you about the summit agenda, because you have a unique perspective here. You are the commerce secretary now. But you were the CEO of a multinational corporation before you took this job. Let's set the criminals aside for a minute. There are thousands of others demonstrating against globalization. You say the president's agenda is helping poverty in this region, that free trade helps people, you know, rising tide lifts all boats, if you will.
But how have -- how has -- how have the politicians failed? And how have the companies like the one you used to head failed to get that message through to these people then? If you are correct that this helps, not hurts, why can't you get that message through?
GUTIERREZ: Well, you know, the message has gone through to many countries. And again, the Central American Free Trade Agreement has gone through. That's the five Central American countries plus the Dominican Republic. And they are just dying to get on with it, because they know that free trade and fair trade and opening their markets creates jobs and creates prosperity. We saw that in Chile. We're seeing that in every country with which we have a trade agreement. We've seen that in the NAFTA countries, in Mexico and Canada.
So again, these are expressions of democracy. And you'll find that in every country around the world.
But if you look at the facts, if you look at the results, free and fair trade lifts people out of poverty, creates jobs, and creates growth.
BLITZER: Carlos Gutierrez is the commerce secretary. Mr. Secretary, thanks for spending a few moments with us.
GUTIERREZ: Thank you, Wolf. Good talking to you.
BLITZER: Let's get back to those demonstrations and the summit in Argentina right now. We've been watching this for more than two hours. These are live pictures we're getting in from Mar del Plata in Argentina. That's the city where the summit is taking place.
Only a few blocks away from this area, the summiteers are now convening for their first formal plenary session. We've already seen their so-called class photo, some of the bilateral meetings that President Bush has had with other summit leaders. And now they're continuing on with some of their substantive discussions.
Alec Miran is with us. He's our producer, he's on the scene, he's been covering the demonstrations.
It looks like it's quieting down a bit. Is it, Alec?
MIRAN: Yes, Wolf, it's sort of an eerie calm. I'm at the corner of Independencia and Colon Avenues, two major avenues. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of ordinary Mar del Plata residents sort of standing around, just looking, trying to figure out what's happened to their city. The demonstrators have vanished, for lack of a better word. We just saw some of those mounted -- motorcycle-mounted policemen I described to you earlier came down the street and made a left going west on Independencia Avenue.
It didn't appear that they knew where the demonstrators were. It just appeared that they were, I guess, sort of trolling for them, for lack of a better word. We've seen horseback-mounted troops in the last 10 minutes heading this way. The police are fanning out with many different tactics, different units, and in different directions. There's a police helicopter overhead, which doesn't seem to be able to locate any sizable group of demonstrators either.
So possibly, the demonstrators are laying low. Perhaps they're going to mount another offensive, for lack of a better word. Or perhaps they're done.
I'm sure the people who are standing here, looking sort of stunned, in the street would be happy if this was all over. But I can't say with certainty that it is, Wolf.
BLITZER: The president of the United States, Alec, is supposed to leave Argentina when, tomorrow, for Brazil?
MIRAN: Yes, tomorrow. It's down on my schedule right in my pocket. Midday-ish, you know, mid-afternoon our time, sort of.
BLITZER: Are we anticipating, once he gets to Brazil, more of the same, more of these kinds of demonstrations? Or is it a different environment, a different atmosphere there?
MIRAN: Yes, I've gotten a few wire stories sent to us by my folks. I'm not acquainted with Brazil personally, but (INAUDIBLE) looking some demos there. They're also out looking demonstrations in Panama, which will be his third and final stop of this trip. That's where I go after this. And we're just sort of going to keep our eyes open.
BLITZER: John King is here in THE SITUATION ROOM with us. John, I guess when the -- whenever the president travels these days, given the environment around the world, some of the anti- American feelings, you got to brace for this kind of stuff.
KING: They are always protesting. Again, they're not unique to this president, but I would say the volume and the intensity, especially since the Iraq war began, has turned up, because you not only have the protests, there's simple anti-American sentiment in a lot of these places. There is the economics you see on display, economic protests at this summit.
But then there also is an anti-Bush sentiment that stems largely from the Iraq war, and the impression, fueled by this president's critics, that that is just one example of how he likes to use American, whether it's economic might or military might, to impose his will.
BLITZER: And we certainly heard the former president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, make that point in the interview we did here in THE SITUATION ROOM with him about two hours or so ago, in which he said he doesn't remember a time when attitudes, anti-American attitudes, have been so strong, at least in recent years.
All right, we're going to take a quick break. We're going to continue our coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM, demonstrations, angry, violent demonstrations on the streets of Argentina. And inside, the president and the other summit leaders continuing their business.
We'll continue our coverage, much more, right after this.
BLITZER: Angry protests in Argentina, protesting President Bush, protesting free trade, protesting the economic Summit of the Hemisphere that's taking place right now in Mar del Plata.
Welcome back to our continuing coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer. I want to welcome our viewers around the world on CNN International as well, joining us.
John King, our chief national correspondent, he's here. Lucia Newman is joining us from Mar del Plata. Alec Miran, our producer, is on the scene.
These are live pictures that you're seeing. The demonstrations were ugly, they were nasty, they got very, very violent, with Molotov cocktails, with bonfires, with demonstrators hurling rocks. Police came in en masse. And it's still a very tense environment as dusk begins to unfold on the streets of Mar del Plata in Argentina.
Very different situation inside the summit itself, the first plenary session taking place right now, more than 30 leaders, including President Bush and others, inside listening to speeches, continuing their activities. Later, there will be a formal dinner for all these leaders. Alec, give our viewers an update, those who are -- who may just be tuning in. What has happened on the streets of Mar del Plata, and what's happening right now?
MIRAN: Well, Wolf, right now, it's -- to repeat myself, I guess, because I can't think of any better words -- it's sort of eerily calm. No sign of any demonstrators that we can find, or that the police seem to have found.
Early in the day, a big demonstration, a big march, led to the main football stadium, where Hugo Chavez of Venezuela gave a fiery, energetic speech, very calm though. And then that group made its way from the football stadium to a point where police have set up one of a series of blockades, this one about six blocks from where the summit leaders were meeting as the demonstrators approached.
The demonstrators made it very clear that they were coming. They advertised it, for lack of a better word. We were there as the media. The police were there in huge numbers behind the barricade. And, you know, citizens come out to watch. That was a little bit surreal. As the demonstrators approached, they tried to provoke the police. They fired concussion fireworks, I guess is the best way to describe them, (INAUDIBLE) the grand finale on the mall, you hear, you know, that barrage of concussion fireworks.
They were firing those over the heads of the police to try to rattle them. They didn't. They lowered the trajectory a little bit to sort of be a little more in-your-face. That didn't seem to provoke anything. They then burned a couple of paper American flags. They weren't real American flags.
And then they, on the bullhorn, said, you know, Let's join arms, and let's move forward. And at these summits, there's the one thing that the police won't tolerate, and that's when demonstrators, you know, get to the fence, get to the barricade they've set up. So, you know, these protesters made it to the fence. They started pushing, probably 100 police in from the other side rushed the fence, pushed back, clattering their shields -- and then a huge volley of tear gas, Wolf.
And the demonstrators fled. Journalists fled.
Wolf, I'm just -- I'm in the car right now. And our cameraman, Jose Armigo (ph), is listening to the radio. And the local radio has reported there have been 20 injuries -- not clear if those were -- (SPEAKING IN SPANISH) -- ah.
Twenty demonstrators, we are hearing, Wolf, have been injured in the clashes with police. We don't know the extent of those injuries. So, just to get back to what happened, the, you know, police pushed back -- huge volley of tear gas, 20, 30, maybe 40 canisters. Everybody went fleeing from that intersection. And the demonstrators immediately started breaking windows, using sticks or -- rocks. And those who didn't break the windows started throwing Molotov cocktails toward the -- toward the police. And it was real -- it was real chaos there for a while -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And we are -- we are getting word, also -- I don't know if you say this, Alec, but the Associated Press reporting that some of those demonstrators lit American flags on fire.
And young demonstrators fired slingshots, as they were engaged in these angry demonstrations.
Lucia Newman has covered all of these summits over the years. She has covered Latin America for CNN for many years.
Lucia, what can President Bush expect when he leaves Argentina tomorrow, heads for Brazil, and then for Panama the day after?
NEWMAN: Wolf, I think the best he can hope for is to get some kind of commitment from at least some of the Latin leaders that are gathered here to try to reconsider the Free Trade Agreement of the -- Americas to try to -- try to get it back on track.
Now, what he's going to tell them when in private, whether the United States is willing to make the concessions that countries, as I said earlier, like Argentina and Brazil, the Latin American giants, are asking for, that's another question.
As we know, this whole issue isn't very popular in the U.S. Congress either. So, I don't know there -- that there's much that President Bush can do to make these people happy or to keep his -- his electorate in the United States happy.
But at least he's going to try to get some commitment from them to keep -- keep talking about it. I think that's the best he can hope for right now -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And do you think he's going to face these kind of violent, angry demonstrations in Brazil and Panama, just as we have seen unfold these past few hours in Argentina?
NEWMAN: Well, the president is going to Brasilia. That's a completely different venue. It should be a lot quieter. It's also a very quick trip.
It's not geared around free trade, per se. But, in Panama, we understand, there are already demonstrators gearing up to vent their anger against the president -- certainly, a lot of Panamanian students. There have been, in fact, some protests already, we are told. The president will be touring the Panama Canal. He will be kept under very, very tight security, just as he has been here in Argentina.
But we can expect some demonstrations, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Lucia. Lucia is covering the summit for us, as she has covered every one of these Summit of the Americas over these past couple of years.
Lucia, we will get back to you very soon.
John King, our chief national correspondent, is here in CNN SITUATION ROOM covering this story, helping us better understand what's going on.
How important is this trip for President Bush right now?
KING: Well, you have to remember, the president is at probably the lower point of his presidency back here in the United States.
And, sometimes, stepping out on the world stage, you know, there's pomp. There's the great welcoming ceremonies, the military honor guards, the summitry and the handshakes. You're with the other world leaders. Sometimes, that gives you a respite and reminds people you are the president. You're doing their business on the world stage. There's a rally-around.
I say sometimes, because, with pictures like this, and no major substantive agreements out of this summit, the president's not getting that respite. He met with reporters earlier today. Dana Bash was discussing it earlier. And all the questions were about his domestic political standing, the CIA leaks investigation. Will he fire Karl Rove, his top political adviser?
So, this is -- this is not -- this is not an escape for the president, if you will. And he is not going to get what he wants out of the Summit of the Americas, which is an embrace of his economic agenda. And he is certainly going to come home, when he comes home, to continuing political problems here.
BLITZER: Lou Dobbs is getting ready for his program. That starts at the top of the hour.
Lou, I want you to weigh in and give us some thoughts. As you have been watching our breaking news coverage over the past two-and-a- half-hours or so on these demonstrations in Mar Del Plata in Argentina and the -- the summiteers, basically, trying to go about their business only a few blocks away, what goes through your mind, Lou?
LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Well, one, the first thing, as you watch the violence in the street, is, there is no reason for anyone to be surprised by this kind of demonstration, the vigor, the energy, the absolute commitment to making a statement against the Free Trade Agreement for the Americas.
No one should be surprised by this. It's clear that the Argentinean authorities perhaps did not establish a wide enough perimeter -- secondly, that this administration, trying, as John King and you were discussing earlier, to move away from domestic issues, has put the president at the focal point of another major debacle.
And that is pushing free trade with 33 nations that are not interested right now -- thank you very much, Mr. President -- and putting in perfect opposition to Hugo Chavez, which is this hemisphere's worst nightmare, if you happen to be an American, a democratic enthusiast, because he is -- he is taking this opportunity to elevate himself, while the president is now being pictured on -- on television screens all over this country with mayhem around him, these demonstrations.
It's really bad politics. It's really bad policy, meaning the -- the worst nightmare of every political strategist in the White House.
BLITZER: And, Lou, you know that there's an awful relationship between Hugo Chavez and President Bush.
I want you and our viewers in the United States and around the world to listen to what the president of Venezuela said just a little while ago in Argentina. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HUGO CHAVEZ, VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT (voice-over): Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, go to hell.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Well, those are strong words, Lou, from Hugo Chavez.
He hates the Agreement of the Americas. And he then does -- says, if our viewers didn't pick it up, "Go to hell."
DOBBS: Yes. He was actually easy to pick up, even with rudimentary Spanish and certainly with that translation, Wolf.
Again, Hugo Chavez is what he is. He is a -- he is a radical. He is a man given to vituperative comments toward the United States. And, instead of engaging this man and confronting him and rising above him, we have the situation before all our eyes of the president of the United States in the context in which he should never been put.
Whether you are a fan of this president or one of his critics, this is not a way for a president of this, the only superpower on Earth, to be either received or a context in which he should ever be permitted to place himself. This is -- you know, it -- to me, it's ineffable, the kind of planning and thinking.
And, besides that, after pushing for a free-trade agreement for all of the Americas, if one takes the best possible light and says, that's in the spirit of opening up a -- all of the hemisphere to prosperity, or if you take the less-than-generous view, and that is that it's an outsourcing agreement and a disaster for some of the smaller nations in this country, it is -- it's a terrible time for the president to be there.
Hugo Chavez telling everyone to go to hell, there's nothing new in that. He means it. And the fact is that we are not reacting with intelligence. We have no strategy to deal with Hugo Chavez. And, until we deal with it on a strategic level, in a matter of substantive foreign policy, Hugo Chavez is going to win every encounter.
KING: Well, economics is not by strength, Wolf and Lou.
I suspect President Chavez might have a different view if his country had to export textiles or agricultural products, and he didn't sit on a large reserve of oil.
But the -- the interesting thing to me -- and Lou was touching on this -- this is a debate going on around the world. There is a debate. Mr. Bush is asking the hemisphere, if you will, to mimic the European Union. And, obviously, the European Union, the economic partnership and the political partnership...
KING: ... is a debate within Europe. But it is a debate being conducted much more civilly...
KING: ... than what we see going on here.
DOBBS: Much more civilly.
Wolf, if I may, as John King suggests this is about economics, I think what we are witnessing in Argentina today is a reminder that, for the majority of this hemisphere, free trade is not simply about economics. There is an issue of a quality of life, a standard of living, which, while far less than that in the United States, is critically important to a very -- to governments and to politicians throughout South America.
In particular, they do not want to give up sovereignty as willingly as the United States has, in becoming a member of the WTO. And they also have the very clear focus, if -- if I may turn to economics for just a bit, to see what has happened to Mexico in the North American Free Trade Agreement.
It has not been exactly a boon for Mexico, which has seen its manufacturing wages decline. Its poverty rate has not improved one whit. And, in point of fact, their economic growth is half its historical record.
And the president, putting himself in the position of wanting to bring this to the entire hemisphere, that's a very difficult sales job, with or without Hugo Chavez.
BLITZER: Lou is going to have much more on this story coming up at the top of the hour.
Lou, thank you very much for sharing some thoughts with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT," that comes up in 20 minutes. We are going to take a quick break.
When we come back, we will go back live to the streets of Argentina, where these violent, angry demonstrations have been taking place. We will update you on what is going on right now and what is likely to happen in the hours ahead.
Our special coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM continues right after this.
BLITZER: Mar Del Plata, Argentina, the scene of angry demonstrations over the past few hours, demonstrations against the Summit of the Americas, which is taking place there -- the president of the United States and leaders from more than other 30 countries attending the summit, but the demonstrators using Molotov cocktails, hurling rocks, setting bonfires, protesting against the summit and against the United States' policies in that part of the world.
Welcome back to our continuing coverage. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Dana Bash, our White House correspondent, is in Mar Del Plata. And she is covering this story, as well as the overall summit.
This is an important meeting for the president of the United States. And I assume these demonstrations were not necessarily something these summiteers wanted to see.
BASH: Certainly not something they wanted to see, but I think, as -- as pretty much everybody who has been on has been talking about, not unexpected.
Look, the president understands, particularly when he travels abroad -- especially when he travels abroad -- especially when he's talking about a -- really divisive issues like free trade, that the -- that -- that demonstrations and protests happen, and that there is the possibility of riots.
I don't want to leave the impression that he is sort of numb to them, but, when you talk to -- to people who are close to him, and even when you listen to the president himself talk about the concept of these protesters, he just sort of says he understands that this is sort of part of the job and part of -- of -- of politics, particularly global politics, for a president to face protesters.
And when you have 33, 34 world leaders gathered in one place, it is certainly bound to happen, particularly when they are talking about issues that really are divisive in this part of the world, like -- as we have been talking about, like this trade issue.
But one thing that's interesting, Wolf, that we haven't been talking about over the past couple of hours, but, certainly, the people who have been traveling with the president have been trying to focus on, are some of the problems that he's been having back home. And, as a matter of fact, he did have an exchange with reporters, maybe took five or six questions earlier today, about the investigation into -- into leaks and all of the unanswered questions about that, what will happen with his staff, whether or not he believes Karl Rove maybe has to go, whether he owes the American people an apology.
And he went before reporters, but he wouldn't answer any of the questions on those particular issues, saying that it's an ongoing investigation. So, it just sort of gives you a -- a window into the flavor of all of the things that he is trying to deal with 5,500 miles from Washington, but still getting questions on what is going on back home, and now having to deal with -- with the demonstrations, and now, I guess, riots, to the policies that he is promoting here.
BLITZER: And I think riot is a good word, Dana. These clearly were riots -- these mass rioters, if -- if you will -- will, causing extensive damage in Mar Del Plata.
John King, as you watch all of this and you're trying to juxtapose the president's domestic political problems, the economic problems he's trying to deal with at -- at this summit, and now these demonstrations unfolding, you say to yourself, if you are the president of the United States, you know, what else is going on? How many more headaches can he possibly get?
KING: And a Texas team didn't win the World Series either.
I mean, the -- presidents go through ruts like this. This president is in as deep a rut, I think, as we have seen any president in, in some time. Even when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, President Clinton had pretty strong domestic policy numbers that held him up, if you will. And he had a strong economy.
One of the most frustrating parts for the Bush White House right now is, the unemployment rate, the government reported today, it's about 5 percent. Historically, that's pretty good. The economy grew at 3.8 percent in the last quarter. Historically, that's great. And this is a time where the president wanted to be coming to a conclusion of many of his top domestic priorities.
Instead, he is just in a rut. I don't know any other way to put it.
As Dana just noted, the pictures here today, all the questions about his political standing back home -- presidents go through this. But this is a defining moment for this one, because he is in his second term. And, generally, you get a year to 18 months to define your second term, to see if you have what the president calls political capital to carry in to the midterm election year and then the second half of the term, when everybody is worrying about the next presidential election.
One of the big challenges for this president -- and you see it here in Washington -- the Democrats are emboldened to take him on. And they are at every turn. And the Republicans are nervous. And they are not following the White House right now. This president has to reassert his authority.
You remember the news conference from Bill Clinton when he said, I am still relevant. That was a striking moment for any president of the United States. This president faces one of those challenges right now.
BLITZER: It is a serious challenge. He's also got a war in Iraq and a lot of U.S. troops, more than 150,000, engaged in that war right now.
It looks like a little war on the streets of Mar Del Plata. A few hours ago, it started, angry demonstrations. You are look at some of the video that we have been getting in, dramatic video from some of these retail shops, the banks, the -- many of them looted, strictly -- simply speaking, but fires and other activities going on by these rioters.
Alec Miran is our producer. He's been covering this for us. He's covered a lot of these kinds of stories over the years for CNN.
Alec, give us a few thoughts of what's happening.
Alec, can you hear me?
I think we have lost Alec. He has got a cell phone. And it's been on for a long time, John. And that battery may have died a little while ago.
Let me just briefly let our viewers know, it looks like, as it's beginning to get dark on the streets of Mar Del Plata, that the demonstrations have ebbed somewhat -- a quiet, eerie calm, in the words of Alec Miran, our producer. We are going to continue to watch this story.
Alec, are you back with us?
MIRAN: I am, Wolf. My -- one of the casualties of live coverage, my cell phone died. I have got a new one. So, I'm good to go.
BLITZER: That's what we suspected, Alec.
We are going to take a quick break. But, before we do, Alec, tell our viewers the latest, what is on the streets going on right now.
MIRAN: Well, here's the situation.
It is -- after an afternoon, early evening of absolute chaos in downtown Mar Del Plata, it is calm. It -- you know, I -- I don't know that that's a permanent situation. But, for right now, the police have, you know, sort of withdrawn to their original barricade lines.
They -- you know, I think they are out scouting around to see if they can find anything. We just drove around for 20, 25 minutes, didn't see any signs of demonstrators' clashes or anything like that. So, we are going to continue to keep an eye on it. But, right now, it's, I guess, in a holding pattern. We'd like to think it's over, but can't guarantee that.
BLITZER: All right, Alec, stand by, because we will take a quick break and continue our coverage from Argentina.
We are here in THE SITUATION ROOM watching all of these developments unfold. Stay with us. We will be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back.
These pictures are new video that we are just getting in to CNN, pictures that clearly show some of the anger on the streets of Mar Del Plata in Argentina, where the Summit of the Americas is taking place -- President Bush, among other world leaders, participating.
Welcome back to our continuing coverage.
Alec Miran is covering this story for us. He is our producer, our veteran, excellent producer. He's covering the story from the actual scene. He's on the streets of Mar Del Plata.
And you are -- you're telling our viewers, Alec, that the situation is calming down considerably.
MIRAN: Exactly, Wolf.
We just did a reconnoiter through a, oh, 20-, 30-block area around the area, the perimeter of where the clash was -- no sign of demonstrators, no sign of any police. The police have withdrawn back behind the barricades that they are -- you know, they -- they have set up three levels of barricades here. So, for now, it's -- it's -- it's pretty calm.
BLITZER: All right, that's good to know. It's been anything but calm over the past couple hours.
Let's get some perspective on the security that is required to deal with these kinds of summits.
Robert Sikellis is joining us from Vance International. He was directly involved in preparing for the Olympic Games in Athens last year.
This is a -- an extremely tough assignment. You have leaders from more than 30 countries, including the president of the United States. How do you prepare? How does the government of Argentina prepare for this kind of summit, Robert?
ROBERT SIKELLIS, MANAGING DIRECTOR AND ASSOCIATE GENERAL COUNSEL, VANCE INTERNATIONAL: On the fist instance, Wolf, it's entirely to do with intelligence. It's gathering the appropriate intelligence, knowing what's going on, knowing what's likely to happen in the streets, knowing what subversive -- subversive groups are out and about and what they may be planning, getting that kind of intelligence on the street, and knowing, as best you can -- you are never going to be able to predict everything, but as best you can -- the likelihood of something like this actually transpiring, and planning accordingly.
BLITZER: Well, when -- when our viewers see these kinds of images and the rock-throwing, the Molotov cocktails, the burning that is taking place, literally, only a few blocks away from where the president of the United States is, a lot of them say they -- the first question, how safe is the president? What's the answer to that?
SIKELLIS: I can assure you, the president is absolutely safe.
There -- it is highly unlikely that the -- the Secret Service did not anticipate something like this, and the government, the local government, had not anticipated something like this. I -- I am absolutely certain that the president is not in any danger. The Secret Service, we work with them very regularly. And there's no better group on the planet doing this kind of work.
BLITZER: All right, Robert, stand by for a moment. I want to take a quick commercial break, but continue our coverage of what is going on.
We will button it all up right after this.
BLITZER: The fourth Summit of the Americas in Argentina marred by angry, violent demonstrations -- we have been watching it over the past few hours.
Our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner, is watching it as well.
What are you picking up, Jacki?
JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, just wanted to show you some evidence online that at least some form of protests has been in the works for some time, very professional, very well-put- together Web sites -- this one, Stop Bush, against the Summit of the Americas, things like maps of the area, live blogging, the protest events that are taking place.
Here's a Web site that even put to -- together a flier for a party: Come to the beach in protest of the Summit of the Americas -- constantly uploading photos of what's going on, scanning in maps of the area from the newspaper. They are saying that the area is preparing like they would be preparing for Hurricane Katrina -- so, definitely evidence.
Now, these are not necessarily the same people we saw rioting today. But these are people who are protesting and using the Internet to organize online -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Robert Sikellis is from Vance International, a security consultant and an expert on this matter.
It looks like they are advertising in advance what their plans are. Is -- is that a fair assessment?
SIKELLIS: It -- it sure seems that way.
So, going back to what we talked about earlier, clearly, the police, local and both the Secret Service, had anticipated there would be this kind of incident. And I'm sure they have taken appropriate actions.
BLITZER: And I -- I assume that that is good intelligence for the police, local police, and the visiting Secret Service and other dignitaries who have come in to try to protect all these world leaders.
Robert Sikellis, thanks very much for joining us.
John, I -- I -- I suspect -- and we have covered a lot of these summits -- this is not necessarily scripted, from the president's perspective.
And it shows you, increasingly, how sophisticated these protesters are. And, for the president, he will not see much of this. But it is yet another thorn, if you will. He's having a very tough time in his presidency. The attention given to the demonstrations will only add to the tough political questions about the domestic situation he faced today -- not what the president was looking for on this trip.
BLITZER: All right. John, thanks very much.
We are going to continue our coverage. We will be back in one hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.
"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" picking up our coverage right now -- Lou standing by in New York -- Lou.
DOBBS: Wolf, thank you.
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