QDuring last weekend’s Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, US
President Barack Obama sought out Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to shake hands, drawing the ire of conservatives in the US, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who said Obama’s actions showed "weakness." Are US-Venezuelan relations on a new track after the summit and after Chavez’s announcement that Venezuela will send a new ambassador to Washington? What might prevent improved relations between the two countries?
AGuest Comment: Adrian Cruz: "Last weekend’s Summit of theAmericas
performance byPresident Obama was most disappointing,albeit predictable. Mr. Obamahas been in an apologetic tour that startedin Europe last month and ended withphoto ops with Hugo Chavez in LatinAmerica. The President of the UnitedStates should be seen palling around withour supporters, the likes of Uribe of Colombia and Calderon of Mexico, andnot with Chavez and Ortega while makingovertures to Raul Castro. It can onlydemoralize the often times persecutedsympathizers of democratic government inopposition to Chavez, Castro and Ortega.Latin America needs a strong, proud,benevolent America, willing and ready tostand for the democratic principles as statedby its founding fathers, not a pathetic, weak, apologetic and slumbering papertiger."
AGuest Comment: Jennifer McCoy: "Allegations of weaknessby Barack Obama for
greetingcivilly an elected head of state at agathering of hemispheric leaders is absurd.Obama’s message to the Latin andCaribbean leaders was that the US ought toacknowledge past mistakes and the legacyof past interventionism, but that othercountries should also recognize their own responsibility for their state of affairs, andall of us should be looking to the future todetermine how to work together to solveour common problems and enhance ourgeneral welfare. I was at the summit and Iwitnessed the overwhelmingly positivereception of the hemisphere to the newUS administration, and an almost visiblesign of relief at the changes inWashington. Even Chavez recognized thischange and wants to be a part of it. Thatdoes not mean that the US will suddenlyfind that all contentiousness has disappeared,particularly with the countrieswho have expressed the deepest grievanceswith US policy or with whom theUS has the most serious discrepancies.Venezuela‘s foreign policy, in particular,is predicated on challenging US dominancein the region and the world. But ifVenezuela is willing to restore diplomaticcommunications by exchanging ambassadorsagain, the US should certainly takeadvantage of that signal to see on whatissues, and how far, a more cooperativeeffort can be constructed to deal withserious issues like ensuring the oil flowwhile curtailing the drug flow. At thesame time, it provides channels for theUS to express its concerns about democraticerosions like the incursions on theauthority of elected governors and mayors."
AGuest Comment: Gregory Wilpert: "It seems that US Venezuelarelations are going
toimprove as a result of the recentencounter between Presidents Obamaand Chavez. Contrary to the impressionmany in the US have of Chavez, he is veryinterested in having positive relationswith the US because he is genuinely concernedabout US intervention inVenezuelan politics and hopes that agood relationship will forestall suchintervention. What would derail thispotential improvement of relations,though, are not so much actions byVenezuela, which is unlikely to do muchthat would affect US interests, but USactions, such as the continued funding ofopposition organizations via the NEDand USAID, or the maintenance of sanctionsdue to Venezuela’s supposed lack ofcooperation in the war against drugs andterrorism. Also, considering the divergentstatements Obama made about hisencounter with Chavez and those madeby his advisor Dan Restrepo, it seems thatthe Obama administration still is of twominds about whether it actually wantsbetter relations with Chavez. There is reasonto believe that the Obama administrationmight still try to keep Chavez atarms length mainly so that its détentewith Cuba does not look too ‘dovish.’ "
Adrian Cruz is a member of the Advisory Board of Cross Keys Capital.
Jennifer McCoy is director of the Americas Program at the Carter Center and professor of political science at Georgia State University.
Gregory Wilpert is adjunct professor of political science at Brooklyn College.