President Obama met with Brazilian head of state Lula da Silva on Saturday as part of a new effort to open up dialogue with Latin America. Over the 8 years that President Bush was in power in the United States, South America saw an explosion of leftist leadership.
The relationship with Venezuela was particularly strained by the attempted coup in 2002, which as far as President Hugo Chavez is concerned, was US supported, and by inflammatory remarks made by Chavez with regards to President Bush. Most recently, relations suffered a blow when both countries expelled each other's ambassadors in 2008. While Lula has been given a "green light" from Chavez to broker a renewal of U.S.-Venezuela relations, Obama apparently also sees the Brazilian leader as an ideal go between for his administration and the more militantly socialist regimes in power in both Venezuela and Bolivia.
President Obama also announced trips by both Vice President Biden and Secretary Clinton to the region. Vice President Biden will travel to Chile for a regional conference on progressive governance hosted by President Michelle Bachelet that will also include the presidents of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. Clinton will be headed to Monterrey, Mexico to discuss the Merida Initiative, immigration issues and border security. Many see these trips as a method of smoothing the way for next month's Summit of the Americas in Trinidad, where all the leaders of the Western Hemisphere will be meeting.
"This bodes well for U.S.-Latin America relations," President Lula told TIME. "We are all awaiting the new page President Obama has promised to turn."