Obama, Chavez Meet; Chavez Gives Obama a Book

Obama has come face to face with leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, one of Washington’s fiercest critics, twice so far at the Summit of the Americas. According to a senior official, when the two men were lining up for the ceremonial entrance last night, Obama strode over to Chavez and introduced himself. Chavez reportedly told Obama he hoped for a new start to relations between the two countries, an account the U.S. official did not dispute. According to the official, Obama smiled and returned to his place in the line. Later that night Obama joked to reporters that he’d said “Como estas?”

This morning, at the beginning of a meeting of the Union of South American Nations, Chavez gave Obama a book: “Las Venas Abietas de America Latina” or “The Open Veins of Latin America”, a scholarly text that analyzes Latin America’s dependence on the north. The media friendly Chavez waited until the press had been allowed into the room for a photo opportunity before gifting the book, which Obama accepted.

The two leaders are the rock stars of this event. Local television in Trinidad reported Obama’s arrival as the most anticipated “highpoint” of the afternoon, but quickly followed with reports of Chavez’s enthusiastic reception. Hundreds of reporters had gathered outside the Hyatt hoping to catch a glimpse of Obama as he arrived, and many were sorely disappointed when he entered through a back door. But, the crowd was sated by the arrival of Chavez, who happily responded to reporters calling his name by twice stopping to answer questions. Trinidad TV reports that the crowd became frenzied, lunging forward to engage Chavez. Security was called and calm restored after several minutes. Some local reporters took the incident as a sign of the two leaders' different styles. Aabida Allaham wrote in the Trinidad and Tobago Express. "When Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez set foot in front of the Hyatt Regency Hotel yesterday chaos broke out, proving to many that he was a man of the people. In contrast, the move by United States President Barack Obama to dodge the media by taking a back route, meanwhile, did not go down well."  Looks like a Latin American popularity contest is underway. 

** UPDATE** At the commencement of a plenary session later this morning, Obama was asked by reporters about the book. "I thought it was one of Chavez's books," he said. "I was going to give him one of mine."

** UPDATE 2** A White House Official just gave a readout of Obama's morning meeting. Asked about what Chavez's gift might mean, the official replied, "My personal view is, you know, it's a way for Chavez to get press questions and his picture taken again...This is the nature of the person and anybody who's been at international conferences with Chavez knows that if there's a camera around, he's going to find a way to get in it."

**UPDATE 3** Apparently the book is in Spanish, which Obama does not speak (or read). Oops. And we thought the wrong-format DVDs Obama gave to Brown were a faux pas. A harshly critical book about the U.S. in a language POTUS can't read probably takes the cake on that front. 

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