Monday, April 20, 2009

President Obama and Latin America

The summit of western hemisphere leaders (excepting Cuba) was noted for the sharp change in tone. As the New York Times reports, the U.S. will still provide the organizing principle of relations among the Americas, only in a positive, and not a negative, way:
The antagonism seemed to melt away, replaced by a palpable enthusiasm for a new openness from the United States and hopes of improved relations for Washington with Venezuela and Cuba, which emerged as a core issue here.
Obama was ready for the predictable Republican rhetoric that he was soft on unpleasant Latin American leftists:
Senator John Ensign, Republican of Nevada, said on CNN that it was “irresponsible for the president” to be seen laughing and joking with “one of the most anti-American leaders in the entire world,” referring to Mr. Chávez.
And Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, pointed to Cuba’s estimated 200 political prisoners. “Release the prisoners and we’ll talk to you,” he said of the Cuban government on Fox News Sunday, adding, “Put up or shut up.”
Mr. Obama defended his overtures at a news conference on Sunday, saying the handshakes and the polite conversation he shared with Mr. Chávez here were hardly “endangering the strategic interests of the United States.”
Participants were surprised by the relative calm that characterized the gathering:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada said, “The most remarkable thing about this conference was the failure to fulfill expectations of great confrontation.”
It is possible that the decision to keep the proceedings closed may have kept Hugo Chavez from his usual grandstanding. Instead, as the AP reports, the Venezuelan leader gave Obama a book faulting western capitalist powers for five centuries of Latin American troubles, which doesn't strike me as a threat ot our way of life.
It was not all sweetness and light. Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua couldn't resist going over old history:
Yet soon after, Ortega, who was ousted in 1990 elections that ended Nicaragua's civil war but who was returned to power by voters in 2006, delivered a blistering 50-minute speech that denounced capitalism and U.S. imperialism as the root of much hemispheric mischief. The address even recalled the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, though Ortega said the new U.S. president could not be held to account for that.
At least a sense of proportion prevailed on that point; Barack Obama was born several months after that ill-fated escapade.

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