CARACAS, Venezuela — They don't call him President Bush in Venezuela anymore.
Now he's known as "Comrade."
With the Bush administration's Treasury Department resorting to government bailout after government bailout to keep the U.S. economy afloat, leftist governments and their political allies in Latin America are having a field day, gloating one day and taunting Bush the next for adopting the types of interventionist government policies that he's long condemned.
"We were just talking about that this morning on the floor," said Congressman Edwin Castro, who heads the leftist Sandinista congressional bloc in Nicaragua. "We think the Bush administration should follow the same policies that they and the International Monetary Fund have always told us to follow when we have economic problems — a structural adjustment that requires cutting government spending and reducing the role of government.
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"One of our economists was telling us that Bush has just implemented communism for the rich," Castro said.
No one in Latin America has been making more hay of Bush's turnabout than Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, a self-proclaimed socialist who is the U.S.'s biggest headache in the region.
"If the Venezuelan government, for example, approves a law to protect consumers, they say, 'Take notice, Chavez is a tyrant!'" Chavez said in one of his recent weekly television shows.
"Or they say, 'Chavez is regulating prices. He is violating the laws of the marketplace.' How many times have they criticized me for nationalizing the phone company? They say, 'The state shouldn't get involved in that.' But now they don't criticize Bush for having nationalize . . . the biggest banks in the world. Comrade Bush, how are you?"
The audience laughed and Chavez continued.
"Comrade Bush is heading toward socialism."
That certainly isn't the view of the Bush administration, which sees the government plan to buy toxic mortgages and the takeover of a major insurance company as well as two huge mortgage lenders as distasteful but necessary temporary measures to right the listing U.S. economy and prevent a worldwide depression.
Mark Weisbrodt, director of the leftist Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, advises numerous Latin American governments.
He called the recent Bush administration policies ironic.
"The biggest nationalization in the world was of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The biggest nationalization of an insurer was AIG. People are saying that Bush is privatizing risk and socializing losses," Weisbrodt said.
John Ross, who has begun providing advice to the Chavez government, along with his boss, former London Mayor "Red" Ken Livingstone, criticized the U.S. president and his conservative political allies.
"They have abandoned every policy that they've advocated that other governments should follow over the past 20 years," Ross said by telephone from London. "And they've adopted the measures that they've condemned other governments for taking.
"This is not the end of capitalism. But it is the end of Reaganism and Thatcherism," he added.
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a conservative, was a close ally of President Reagan in the 1980s.
In Peru, Congresswoman Nancy Obregon said she thought Bush's actions were sounding the death knell for capitalism.
"He's driving it into the ground," said Obregon, a socialist. "He's imitating Evo Morales."
Morales is the socialist president of Bolivia who has nationalized a half dozen foreign companies.
But Bolivia's ambassador in Venezuela, Jorge Alvarado, took issue with Obregon's comparison.
"Bush is guilty of a double-standard, but it would be an exaggeration to say he's imitating Evo," said Alvarado. "He'd have to be re-born to imitate Evo!"
Manuel Sutherland, a senior official in the Caracas-based Latin American Association of Marxist Economists, said that Bush has become a fellow traveler.
But Sutherland said he wasn't about to let Bush join his group.
"He carries out nationalizations to save capitalism," Sutherland said. "We want to sink it."
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