A Friendly Gesture, But Not Exactly Friends
(Government of Venezuela)
On March 23, 2009, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez described President Obama as "ignorant," saying that he needs some schooling on Latin America. What a difference a few weeks makes. At the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad today, Chavez and Obama shook hands but didn't come out fighting.
According to CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller, Mr. Obama walked across the room and introduced himself to Mr. Chavez. Photos made available by the Venezuelan government show the two presidents smiling, and Obama touching Chavez's shoulder during their brief encounter. The Venezuelan press office said that Chavez told Obama, "With this same hand I greeted Bush eight years ago. I want to be your friend." The White House isn't commenting on the encounter.
The AP reported that Chavez characterized the meeting as follows: "We shook each other's hands like gentlemen, and it was predictable this would happen."
The recent changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba, such as lifting curbs on travel and money transfers, is contributing to a thawing effect, but don't expect Chavez's trash-talking to abate as he goes about resetting relations with the U.S. He gets a lot of mileage in his region from his anti-American stance and accusation that the U.S. is out to steal Venezuela's ample oil reserves.
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