BRASILIA, Brazil (Reuters) - The leaders of Brazil and the United States, the two most populous countries in the Western Hemisphere, aim to play down differences and seek common ground on issues from trade to democracy in Latin America during a get-together in Brasilia on Sunday.
U.S. President George W. Bush arrived in the capital late Saturday after a Summit of the Americas in Argentina which failed to resolve differences on setting up a regional free trade zone. Protesters -- some 200 of whom battled riot police and torched a bank -- failed to disrupt the summit.
Although workers and peasant groups were gathering in Brasilia for more protests, Bush will also enjoy Brazilian hospitality at a barbecue thrown by President Luiz Inacio Lula at the presidential retreat Granja do Torto.
Cleaning crews on Sunday morning were already painting over anti-Bush graffiti that had been written on walls overnight.
Several trucks mounted with loudspeakers blaring "Bush Out" drove around the capital and a handful of demonstrators outside the ranch shouted "Imperialist Killer."
"Bush drops economic bombs on the region, he's hated in the whole world and Lula shows his subservience by throwing a barbecue for him," said federal lower house Deputy Joao Batista Oliveira de Araujo of the left-wing Socialism and Freedom Party
Lula and Bush's backgrounds could not be more different. Lula is from a poor family whose politics were forged when he was a union leader in a Sao Paulo factory while Bush is a pro-business conservative from a U.S. political dynasty.
But both men's presidencies are in trouble. Lula's popularity has been damaged by a scandal over vote-buying in Congress and illegal campaign funding. Bush is facing growing criticism over his handling of the Iraq War.
TRADE AT TOP OF AGENDA
At the summit in Mar Del Plata, Lula argued that talks next month on the World Trade Organization's Doha round took precedence over restarting the stalled negotiations on the Free Trade Area of the Americas, or FTAA.
The FTAA, scheduled to begin 10 months ago, has been at the heart of U.S. policy in the region. Brazil and other big Latin economies feel the deal would favor the United States.
Brazil wants cuts in U.S farm subsidies and greater access to the U.S. farm market before it opens up its industry and service sectors to U.S. competition.
"Free trade is very important if we respect equality among nations," Lula told reporters in Argentina on Saturday.
The United States, Mexico and some other countries had been hoping to set an April date to move the trade talks forward, a move opposed by Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela.
The Bush administration insists the free trade agreement stretching from Canada to Argentina would give American businesses new markets and help create jobs in Latin America.
U.S. national security adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters aboard Air Force One, traveling with Bush to Brazil, that progress had been made toward creating a free-trade zone.
"It's not deadlocked," he said. "We went from a summit which was supposed to bury FTAA to a summit ... in which all 34 countries actually talk in terms of enhanced trade and an FTAA."
Bush will also use the visit to spell out his vision of democracy in Latin America -- is nemesis, Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez.
Lula and Chavez are good friends and the United States had at one time hoped Lula could help rein in Chavez. But Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said on Saturday his country did not intend to act as mediator.
His visit is also to show support for the Lula government's economic policies, which have brought stability to the economy and encouraged an investment and export boom.