"Should I become president, I will look south, not as an afterthought, but as a fundamental commitment of my presidency," Bush said during an appearance at Florida International University in Miami.
Calling for free trade from the top of Canada to the tip of South America, Bush offered a helping hand to struggling democracies, a clenched fist to Castros Cuba and thumbs down to Clinton administration policies, reports CBS News Correspondent Bll Whitaker.
"My word to you, Mr. Castro: Let your people live in freedom," Bush said.
"I challenge the Castro regime to surprise the world and adopt the ways of democracy," Bush said. "Until it frees political prisoners, and holds free elections and allows free speech, I will keep the current sanctions in place."
The Texas governor said the Clinton administration "dropped the ball" in securing new trade deals with some Latin American nations. Bush said one of his first acts as president would be to try to persuade Congress to re-enact so-called fast-track authority.
That would enable his administration to resume suspended free-trade talks with Chile and other Latin American nations, Bush said.
In their hour-long talk, Bush said he made it very clear to Fox "that we will enforce the borders as long as I'm governor and if I'm the president, but in a humane way."
"I don't know whether it will work or not, but I appreciate his optimistic vision," Bush added of the open-border proposal, saying it is important to boost Mexico's wages first. "When the wage differential narrows, then perhaps it is a strategy we can explore jointly."
Fox said he hoped that Mexico under his leadership will be "a much better friend and partner" with both the United States and Canada.
"We can build up a common future together," Fox said.
Gore campaign spokeswoman Kym Spell said Bush's Latin American plans offered nothing new. She said everything Bush was proposing, the Clinton-Gore administration had already "proposed, initiated or tried to push through the Republican Congress."
Latin America expert Louis W. Goodman said there's little reason at this point to think there will be major variations in how Bush or Gore would handle the region. Goodman, the dean of the School of International Service at American University, said, "There haven't been clear differences that have emerged between the two."
But Goodman predicts Bush's free-trade agenda could be a hard sell here at home.
"To have a broad range of programs that would enhance trade with Latin American countries there would have to be a lot of education of our legislators," Goodman said. "I don't think its something that our representatives are ready to embrace at this time, but they could if there was strong and imaginative leadership."