The New York Times’Jim Rutenbergshares his observations after a week spent traveling with the Chimpster in Central and South America.
Try as they might to make President Bush utter the name of his chief Latin American nemesis, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, reporters who covered Mr. Bush’s five-nation trip through South and Central America could not succeed.
Mr. Bush faced at least 11 questions about Mr. Chávez either in interviews immediately preceding his trip or in the mini-briefings he held in each country he visited, including a couple in which Mr. Bush was directly asked about the avoidance.
Yet not once did he take the bait to say Mr. Chávez’s name or to acknowledge him as a person. At one point reporters considered asking him directly, “Who is the president of Venezuela?” They concluded that it would not only be too ridiculous, but that it probably would not bring the desired result anyway.
And aides traveling with Mr. Bush this week did their best to contend that he was not paying a stitch of attention to Mr. Chávez.
But Mr. Bush undercut them by suggesting during an interview with Greta Van Susteren of Fox News that Mr. Chávez was indeed on his mind. Ms. Van Susteren interviewed Mr. Bush after he visited the ranch of President Tabaré Vázquez of Uruguay, where his host served him Uruguayan barbecue. “Venezuela has got fantastic meats,” Mr. Bush said, then caught himself. “I mean, Uruguay has got fantastic meats.”
With scandal brewing at home and protests greeting him wherever he went, President Bush seemed to be seeking solace in food.
It was certainly on his mind, and wherever he went he made some reference to what he would eat, what he hoped to eat or what he had eaten.
In a news briefing in Uruguay at Dr. Vázquez’s ranch — where meats were prepared in a giant pit — Mr. Bush said: “I appreciate your willingness to cook some Uruguayan beef. You’ve told me all along how good it is, and after we answer a few questions, we’re about to find out.”
In an joint news briefing with President Óscar Berger of Guatemala that preceded a dinner together, Mr. Bush said he was hurrying his remarks, explaining, “I’m not going to talk too long because I might get too hungry.”
Toward the end of the briefing, Mr. Bush reminded his host, “This will be your last question, Mr. President, and then we can start thinking about dinner — la cena,” then asking, “Qué vamos a comer?” — or, “What are we going to eat?”
“Tortillas,” Mr. Berger said. “We have tortillas with guacamole and beans.”
“Tortillas?” Mr. Bush said, “Qué bueno.”
Speaking with his host, President Felipe Calderón, on Wednesday morning, Mr. Bush finally admitted, “Estoy lleno,” or, “I’m full.”