After handshake, Chavez offers Obama a book



PORT OF SPAIN, Laurent Lozano- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a longtime US critic, offered a book with a pointed theme Saturday to President Barack Obama at an Americas summit in Trinidad and Tobago.
The book, Las Venas Abiertas de America Latina (Open Veins of Latin America) by Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano, is about the region's colonial past and exploitation by the world's big powers -- themes hammered constantly by Chavez, who accuses the United States of "imperialist" policies.



After handshake, Chavez offers Obama a book
"I thought it was one of Chavez's books," Obama told reporters afterwards. "I was going to give him one of mine."
Obama has earned millions from his best-selling non-fiction books "The Audacity of Hope" and "Dreams From My Father."
Chavez had inscribed the book to his US counterpart with the message "For Obama, with affection."
The Venezuelan leader told reporters that "this book is a monument in our Latin American history. It allows us to learn history, and we have to build on this history."
Despite its theme, the gift might have been meant as another conciliatory gesture from Chavez, whose country is a major oil exporter to the United States.
Hours later Chavez said that he was naming Roy Chaderton, Venezuela's current representative to the Organization of American States (OAS), to be his new ambassador to Washington.
"Now all we are awaiting is Washington's approval," Chavez said.
The job has been open since September, when Chavez kicked out the US ambassador to Venezuela and Washington responded in kind.
There was no immediate news on whether Washington would send a new ambassador to Caracas.
Chavez hinted he was considering a new envoy after brief meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
At the opening of the fifth Summit of the Americas on Friday, Chavez and Obama shook hands in a cordial, smiling manner.
The Venezuelan presidency quickly supplied photos of the moment, with an official saying it was very "brief."
Chavez was said to have told Obama at that encounter: "I shook hands with (former US president George W.) Bush with this hand eight years ago. I want to be your friend."
Obama responded by thanking Chavez, the official said.
US officials confirmed the encounter, but said Obama had simply presented himself to Chavez with a "How are you?" and left after shaking hands.
Newspapers around the world ran the photo of the handshake with speculation that the long antagonism between Washington and Caracas might be overcome.
A senior US administration official said Chavez gave a speech at the summit "critical of past US policy," but on Obama he "expressed the hope that things have changed."
The official also said the book-giving was likely a publicity stunt by the Venezuelan leader.
"Anybody who's been in international conferences with Chavez knows that if there is a camera around he is going to find a way to be in it," he said.
It was just "a way for Chavez to get press questions and his picture taken again," he opined.
Obama himself was riding high at the summit on a wave of optimism generated by a sudden, unexpected thaw in relations between the United States and Cuba in recent days.
Both Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro have said they are open to starting talks focused on issues including human rights and political prisoners in Cuba.
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Sunday, April 19th 2009
Laurent Lozano
           


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