Let Us Talk

April 20, 2009

President Obama Takes A Picture With Hugo Chavez…

CB Trinidad Americas Summit Obama  Saturday during a UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) meeting at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez hunted down President Barack Obama and gave him a copy of the book titled ‘The Open Veins of Latin America’ by Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano.

It seems that Chavez (a known media hog) wanted to be in President Obama’s presence to get some media attention since Obama was the king of the show and the media was pretty much ignoring Chavez.  President Obama, being the statesman that he is, politely accepted the book. 

president-obama-hugo-chavez-4-17-09  Prior to that, on Friday, at the opening of the Summit, Chavez went out of his way and “bum-rushed” President Obama with a camera crew and literally ‘pilfered’ a handshake.  As you can see from the picture, the handshake was clumsy and the expression on President Obama’s face was one of tolerance.

What was our President to do?  Have his Secret Service detail knock over Chavez and start an international incident?  I think not.  President did the right thing.  He was cordial to Chavez.  After all, isn’t the purpose of these Summits to allow these heads of states to mix and mingle? 

As President Obama said, “Venezuela is a country whose defense budget is probably 1/600th of the United States. They own CITGO.  It’s unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chávez that we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States.”

As Sun-Tzu, the famous Chinese general and military strategist said, “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”

It was predictable and amusing to see Republicans crawl out from under their decomposing non-productive rocks and leap at the chance to try to turn a simple photo op into an event of biblical proportions.

When Gingrich was asked what was the downside of President Obama speaking to Chavez, Newt said, I don’t think there’s any down side to talking to him, but I think being friends, taking a picture that clearly looks like they’re buddies, hurts in all of Latin America.”

Wow, a picture makes them look like ‘buddies’ and will hurt all of Latin America.  Okay Newt and republicans, you win.

Let’s get serious for a minute.  President Obama went to Trinidad and Tobago to work and work he did. 

During the Summit President Obama articulated a broad new agenda for Latin America and the Caribbean and gained momentum in his attempt to repair relations with countries in the region who are some of America’s biggest critics.  

Obama outlined what he is learning about the world from the leaders in general and that he will use what he has learned in  Europe, Turkey, Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago to foster a better working relationship with the nations of the world.

Obama implicitly acknowledged some of the criticism by the Latin American and Caribbean countries about America not being a good neighbor — just a military force in the region.  Obama said that he felt the United States could learn a lesson from Cuba which for decades has sent doctors to other countries throughout Latin America to care for the poor. That policy of being a good neighbor who is there to give a helping hand in times of need has made Cuban leaders Fidel and Raúl Castro gain support and respect in the region.

“It’s a reminder for us in the United States that if our only interaction with many of these countries is just drug interdiction, if our only interaction is military, then we may not be developing the connections that can, over time, increase our influence,” Obama said.

Obama also said that he is willing to open dialogue with Cuba but he wanted to see some action from Cuba first, not just words. Obama mentioned Raúl Castro’s recent statement that his country was willing to discuss human rights issues with the United States. In response Obama said that Cuba should free political prisoners, reduces its tax on cash remittances to the island and grant new freedoms to its citizens as a next step in thawing relations with the United States.

During the summit, Obama presented a broader U.S. agenda for Latin America than under the Bush and Clinton administrations, which focused primarily on trade and counter-narcotics programs.

President Obama pledged to work closely with Latin America, the Caribbean and Canada on climate change, public security threats, and bottom-up approaches to economic relations, development aid and lending.

Although Obama heard criticism over heavy-handed U.S. economic policy and political interventions of the past, the anti-American tone did not reach the pitch it did in previous summits. Obama spoke only briefly in a series of closed-door meetings, saying he wanted to listen to the hemisphere’s other 33 democratically elected leaders gathered here.

Nicaragua’s Ortega, a longtime U.S. critic, called Obama the “president of an empire” but said he found him open to doing things differently than his predecessors. “I want to believe that he’s inclined, that he’s got the will,” Ortega said.

Asked Sunday what he had learned in T&T, Obama said, “Even the most vociferous critics of the United States also want to make sure that the United States’ economy is working and growing again, because there is extraordinary dependence on the United States for exports, for remittances. And so, in that sense, people are rooting for America’s success.”

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5 Comments »

  1. I’ve never understood why the right is so wrankled by this issue, aside from it being evidence of Obama’s foreign policies actually working and worrying about no longer being able to harvest Chavez as a source of easy hatred for campaign rallies. Let us not forget their need to keep trying to undermine Obama even after the excellent handling of the pirate hostage situation.

    But aside from all THAT…

    Comment by truevcu — April 20, 2009 @ 3:05 pm | Reply

    • Truevcu – The right has no new ideas or agenda of their own so they’ve chosen to be spoilers who will work against sensible American interests just to stroke their own egos.

      What a miserable lot they are.

      Comment by Paulette — April 20, 2009 @ 3:57 pm | Reply

  2. Good points here Paulette. I too saw it as Chavez seeking out President Obama – and he had no choice but to be a statesman.

    As for thawing the relationship with Cuba, it’s long overdue. Have questions about human rights stopped us from relationships and travel restrictions with other countries?

    Comment by afrankangle — April 22, 2009 @ 8:13 am | Reply

    • Frank – you are so right. It’s time to try something different. If America keeps doing the same thing over and over and expects a different result that means we’re simply crazy and out of touch.

      If our new efforts don’t work then we can try something else or revert to old tactics but we have to keep trying. We’re all citizens of the world and have to co-exist with each other. Amicably would be nice.

      Comment by Paulette — April 22, 2009 @ 9:23 am | Reply

  3. I think, these are beautiful pictures!

    It is always a nice thing to see two leaders shaking hands and greeting each other warmly rather than seeing them blaming each other for what is going on in this world!

    Comment by Yanti Mirdayanti — August 2, 2009 @ 10:22 am | Reply


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