Chavez Reaches Out and Touches Obama

Over the weekend, the Summit of the Americas provided a stage for some highly anticipated interaction between President Obama and left-leaning leaders of Latin America, who have sharply criticized the United States in the past.

But aside from some theatrical railing against the imperial policies adopted by Obama's predecessors, the tone among the world leaders was congenial, signaling a willingness to move forward with a new era of diplomacy. Most notably, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who once famously referred to President George W. Bush as "satan," made an extra effort to connect with Obama, gifting the new US President with a book entitled, Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent by famed Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano. Since Chavez gifted Obama with the non-fiction tome, it has become an overnight best seller on The gesture signaled a significant shift in Chavez's attitude from just a month ago when he declared Obama an "ignoramus."

All of the differences seemed to have been put aside over the weekend as the leaders of almost all (Cuba was not asked to participate) 34 countries of the western hemisphere met. “There was a spirit of good will that went way beyond the wildest dreams of any one of us,” Patrick Manning, the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, told the NY Times on Sunday.

Obama seemed to be happy with the progress that was made on his 4-day trip through Latin America, saying he believed he had paved the way for “frank dialogue” with countries like Venezuela and Cuba. But the chummy atmosphere didn't make everyone happy, Senator John Ensign,
(R-NV) told CNN that it was “irresponsible for the president” to be seen laughing with “one of the most anti-American leaders in the entire world,” in reference to Obama's interactions with Chavez. Obama responded by brushing off the accusation and asserting that handshakes and polite conversation with Chavez could in no way “endanger the strategic interests of the United States.”

Check out this video to learn more about the Summit of the Americas: