US President George W Bush has made the first visit by an American head of state to Peru three days after a car bombing near the US Embassy killed nine people.
Mr Bush wrapped his arm around President Alejandro Toledo’s back, grinned for photographers and then sat down to private talks yesterday on terrorism and trade.
The US President arrived under heavy security. Streets were filled with military tanks, armoured cars, water cannons and 7,000 riot police and troops in camouflage.
They stood watch over the thousands of Peruvians who braved the hot sun in shorts and flip-flops to smile and wave at the presidential motorcade.
Mr Bush’s first stop was the US ambassador’s residence.
Mr Bush was then greeted at the massive Presidential Palace by Mr Toledo.
On the eve of his visit, Mr Bush touted free trade as a means of lifting the region’s economies, and said: ‘‘We’re going to analyse all options available to help Peru.’’
But the terrorist attack on Wednesday loomed over the President’s visit, and other thorny issues persisted: whether to resume drug surveillance flights over Peru following a fatal accidental shootdown last year, and whether to press the case of an American woman imprisoned in Peru.
Mr Bush said he trusted the Peruvian government to keep his one-day visit safe.
Riot police firing tear gas dispersed dozens of anti-American demonstrators, and smoke billowed over a square near the Palace of Justice. There were no reports of injuries, but at least three men were seen being led away by uniformed police.
Mr Toledo, whose approval ratings have plunged to below 30% after eight months in office, gave a nationally televised address yesterday to outline eight anti-terrorism measures, such as rebuilding the state intelligence structure and doubling the anti-terrorism budget.
‘‘We will not allow a return to violence,’’ he said.
For his first trip to South America, Mr Bush chose Peru to highlight the democracy that last year followed the hard-line government of former President Alberto Fujimori. ‘‘Peru stands out in South America today for that achievement,’’ said US Ambassador John Hamilton. ‘‘It merits a visit - an endorsement - from my country.’’
Mr Bush planned to use his meetings with Mr Toledo and the leaders of Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador to advocate extending the Andean Trade Preferences Act, which sets special tariff treatment for imports from those countries.
Mr Bush also planned to discuss an initiative that would funnel 200 million dollars (€228m) this year into the region for economic and social programmes, alternative development and drug interdiction efforts, according to a senior administration official who spoke on anonymity.
The US announced recently it will triple its anti-drug funding to Peru. The aid will support Peru’s efforts to stem a possible resurgence in coca production and the recent appearance of heroin poppy crops in remote highland areas.
But Mr Bush entered his meeting with Toledo having made no decision on whether to resume drug surveillance flights over Peru.
They were suspended after a Peruvian military jet shot down a plane carrying American missionaries, killing 35-year-old Veronica Bowers and her infant daughter Charity. A CIA-operated surveillance plane had mistakenly identified the aircraft as a possible drug smuggling flight.