BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — On Friday, as President Bush’s five-nation tour came to its stop in Uruguay, I took the 29 bus from San Telmo to the stadium Ferro, arriving around six.
First we heard the drums.
Then we saw the rows of school buses used to move demonstrators around the city.
Then, as the low roar of the stadium grew, thousands of flyers littered the street: “Viva Hugo Chavez.” “Afuera Bush.”
By six oclock, Hugo Chavez’s Argentine anti-Bush rally was pounding with some 32,000 drum-banging, flag-waving leftists. They were dispatched to the scene with what several activists told me was money from the Argentine and Venezuelan governments.
Then, strolling onto a stage in his red Maoist top, Comandante Chavez took over.
For two hours, without notes, he worked through a slate of themes: imperialism, oil and gas nationalization, George Bush, regionalism, IMF, Che, Fidel, Simon Bolivar, Iraq, more George Bush. He several times worked them all — Militant Peronists, Maoists, Trotskites, labor unions — into a rant: Get out gringo! Son of a bitch!
Notably, Kirchner wasn’t at the rally.
But his approval, the approval of his government, the meeting with Chavez that took place hours earlier, all are putting the popular leftist president on a showdown track with Washington. Today, Sunday papers here say U.S. diplomats are asking Argentine diplomats for explanations. One poli sci professor explained it to me this way: Kirchner is the most radical among the moderates and the most moderate of the radicals. He’s playing two cards: gain from the Chavez crowd’s political support but don’t go so far as to offend the United States and conservatives at home who resent the former colonel’s anti-imperialist meddling.
It might be too late.
The Bush White House was miffed in 2005 by Kirchner’s stinging and unexpected speech at the Summit of the Americas here. Playing host to Chavez in this way might tip the ship.
What isn’t unexpected, however, is that Kirchner’s opponents will make much ado of his pro-Chavez tendencies as he (or his wife) heads into the October presidential election here.