April 18th, 2009
12:39 PM ET
14 years ago

Chavez gives Obama a book at summit

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/18/art.obamachavez.gi.jpg caption="Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez gives a book to President Obama April 18"]

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CNN) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez gave U.S. President Obama a book Saturday on Latin America.

The leftist leader, who once likened President George W. Bush to the devil, shook Obama's hand and handed him "Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent," by Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano.

Asked later what he thought of the book, Obama jokingly said he thought it was one of Chavez's books. "I was going to give him one of mine," he quipped.

Obama and Chavez are attending the fifth Summit of the Americas, a gathering of representatives from 34 countries.

Asked if the encounters with Chavez were paving the way for a meeting, Obama simply responded, "I think we're making progress at the summit."

On Friday, Obama and Chavez saw each other and shook hands. Chavez's press office said Obama walked up to Chavez to greet him. It called the meeting "historic."

"President Chavez expressed his hope that relations between the two countries would change," it said, quoting Chavez as having told his U.S. counterpart: "Eight years ago with this same hand I greeted Bush. I want to be your friend."

The office said Obama thanked Chavez.

Also Saturday, Obama met with representatives of the Union of South American Countries, a coalition of South American countries, and he is scheduled to attend three general sessions later in the day.

Afterward, he will attend an official dinner and a cultural show.

On Friday, Obama said he is seeking "a new beginning" in U.S. relations with Cuba. "Every one of our nations has a right to follow its own path," he told representatives at the summit. "But we all have a responsibility to see that the people of the Americas have the ability to pursue their own dreams in democratic societies.

"There have been several remarks directed at the issue of the relationship between the United States and Cuba, so let me add this: the United States seeks a new beginning with Cuba."

He called for "decades of mistrust" to be overcome, but noted that he has already loosened restrictions on Americans traveling to visit relatives in Cuba and sending money to the island.

Obama said that may be just the beginning. "I am prepared to have my administration engage with the Cuban government on a wide range of issues - from drugs, migration and economic issues to human rights, free speech and democratic reform," he said, underscoring his seriousness by adding: "Let me
be clear: I am not interested in talking for the sake of talking. But I do believe that we can move U.S.-Cuban relations in a new direction."

Cuba is not among the countries attending the summit.

Obama's comments represent a major shift in a U.S. policy that has remained largely unchanged since 1962, when the Kennedy administration imposed
a trade embargo on the communist island.

Filed under: Hugo Chavez • Popular Posts • President Obama
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Hankers

    keep your enemies close... which one is thinking this? Both?

    April 18, 2009 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  2. Anonymous

    Stand by for the right wing kooks to make this out as some sort of conspiracy. You know how they hate books.

    April 18, 2009 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  3. Robert

    Uh oh. Obama is giving another gift!

    April 18, 2009 11:57 am at 11:57 am |