He mingled with farmers in Guatemala, danced with Brazilian teenagers in Sao Paulo and toured the Mayan ruins of Mexico, the type of sightseeing he has largely steered clear of on previous foreign trips.
 
But he was dogged along the way by mocking "Gringo go home" rhetoric from Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's president, while street protests at some of his stops showed the depth of the region's frustration with him.
 

Violent protests

 

On Friday, police fired tear gas and sent baton charges against thousands of protesters in Sao Paulo, Brazil. On Sunday, scores of rioters rampaged in Bogota, Colombia, breaking shop windows and ripping computers from offices before police hit back with tear gas and water cannons.

 

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And in Mexico City, hundreds of demonstrators carrying signs bearing slogans like "Bush, Assassin, we don't want you as a neighbour" protested by throwing rocks at heavily armoured riot police guarding the US embassy.

 

A group of about 30 masked protesters clad in black led an attack on the thick lines of riot police, unleashing a constant barrage of concrete they had ripped from the sidewalk and using metal fences as battering rams.

They also attacked officers with sticks, metal bars and blow torches made out of spray cans.

 

Mexican police responded with tear gas, pepper spray, and baton charges, throwing back rocks and clubbing demonstrators to the ground. A handful of police were injured, a police spokesman said.

 

Bush 'desperate'

 

Several protesters were arrested or injured, one with blood pouring from his head, as they dispersed.

 

Guadalupe Fernandez, 64, who was protesting but not involved in the violence, said they were "in disagreement with the war policy" of Bush.

 

He said: "Bush is desperate because Latin America is moving toward the left."

 

Lorenzo Fernandez, the commanding officer at the scene, said the police were only defending themselves.

 

The officer said: "These are people who don't know how to demonstrate pacifically."

 

In the city of Merida, a Mexican radio journalist at a protest was hit with a slab of concrete and taken to hospital.

 

About 30 protesters also ran into Merida's central square, smashing windows of the town hall and spraying graffiti on the walls. Hundreds of riot place chased them out, arresting several demonstrators.

 

Immigration policy

 

Police arrested demonstrators in
Merida and Mexico City  [Reuters]
During the tour, leaders of Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia all pressed Bush to work to relax US immigration policy and find a way to achieve a legal work status for the 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States.

 

It was a topic likely to come up again in talks on Wednesday between Bush and Felipe Calderon, Mexico's president, who delivered a blunt message on Tuesday, complaining directly about US plans to build a fence along part of the porous US-Mexican border.

 

As long as the United States is rich in capital and Mexico rich in labour, "migration might not be stopped, and certainly not by decree," Calderon said.

 

Calderon took over in December from Vicente Fox, who failed to get an immigration deal with Bush during his term.

 

Bush is pledging to push the Democratic-led US Congress to complete action on immigration this year with significant steps taken by August, before the campaign for the 2008 race to succeed him completely takes over.