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Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez talks with reporters as he leaves his hotel in Buenos Aires on Friday. Chavez is in Argentina for a two-day visit and will attend an anti-Bush rally later Friday. ((Pablo Anieli/Associated Press))

Firebrand Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez slammed U.S. President George W. Bush's Latin America tour on Friday, saying his visit comes too late to "scrub clean" the history of destructive U.S. policies in the region.

Chavez, who has cultivated a reputation as a vocal critic of the Bush administration, is touring Latin America at the same time as the man he once called "the devil."

"Oh, ho ho! Gringo go Home!" Chavez declared before leading an "anti-imperialist" rally at a soccer stadium in the Argentine capital Buenos Aires, just across the Rio del la Plata from Bush's stops in Uruguay on Friday and Saturday.

Chavez said Bush's five-country swing would fail to improve America's image and dismissed pledges of U.S. aid as a cynical attempt to "confuse" Latin Americans.

"I believe the chief objective of the Bush trip is to try to scrub clean the face of the empire in Latin America, but it's too late," Chavez said on Argentine state television. "It seems he's just now discovered that poverty exists in the region."

Chavez said his stadium rally with leftist labour, student and social groups "will be confrontational. I believe you have to point out the contrasts. If he says 'Yes,' we say, 'No!'"

Earlier Friday, Bush brushed aside suggestions that the U.S. has ignored poverty in Latin America while he has been leader.

'We care about our neighbourhood a lot'

"That may be what people say, but it's certainly not what the facts bear out," Bush said in Sao Paolo, Brazil. "We care about our neighbourhood a lot."

Bush is visiting Latin America this week, his eighth trip to the region, in what is widely viewed as attempt to repair his image in the face of anti-U.S. sentiment.

On Friday, Bush met Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to announce a new ethanol agreement and to talk about trade between the two countries.

Brazil and the U.S. agreed on Friday to work together to promote biofuels production in the Americas and other regions in an effort to help clean up the global environment.

The two leaders had less success on other trade issues.

Silva said Brazil wants the U.S. to lower its subsidies to American farmers, while the U.S. wants Brazil to open its markets to U.S. companies for industrial products and services.

Reaching an agreement 'not a simple thing'

At a joint appearance after their meetings, both Bush and Silva indicated that they had their differences. Silva said reaching an agreement with the U.S. is "not a simple thing to do."

Silvahad hoped to persuade Bush to repeal or reducethe 54-cent-per-gallon U.S. tariff on sugar-based Brazilian ethanol.

"Brazil hopes the ethanol market will be benefited by free trade, free of protectionisms," Silva said at a joint news conference.

"It's not going to happen," Bush replied to a question from the Brazilian media. "The law doesn't end until 2009."

Earlier Friday, Chavez said he would award "the gold medal for hypocrisy" to Bush because, he said, the president is seemingly concerned about Latin American poverty but refuses to acknowledge that the U.S. is responsible for the problem.

In Brazil, however, Bush said that's a misperception.

"I don't think America gets enough credit for trying to help improve people's lives," he said. "My trip is to explain as clearly as I can that our nation is generous and compassionate."

18 reported hurt in anti-Bush protests in Brazil

Bush, who is visiting five countries over seven days, arrived Thursday in Sao Paulo. After Brazil, Bush is scheduled to visit Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico.

Bush's arrival in the region on Thursday sparked violent clashes between protesters and police.

Brazilian authorities would not say how many people were injured in a march through Sao Paulo of 6,000 students, environmentalists and leftists, but Brazilian media said Friday at least 18 were hurt.

In the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, more than 500 people yelled "Get out, imperialist!" as they marched to a Citigroupbank branch and burned an effigy of Bush.

Protesters also targeted the U.S. Consulate in Rio de Janeiro, splattering it with bright red paint meant to signify blood.

In Colombia, about 200 masked protesters at Bogota's National University clashed with 300 anti-riot police carrying shields and helmets. The protestersspray-painted anti-U.S. slogans on walls and shouted, "Out Bush!"

With files from the Associated Press