Cuba, Chavez, Cooperation: The Triple C's Of The Americas Summit

obama hugo 042009

President Barack Obama defended his controversial greeting of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez Sunday, as he prepared to return to the United States following the conclusion of the fifth annual Summit of the Americas. Obama rejected criticism following his greeting of the leader, who last month called Obama an 'ignoramus," stating that he was merely showing "courtesy."

Obama shook hands with Chavez, setting aside the rocky relationship between the two nations. In the past, Chavez called former President George W. Bush the "devil."

However, Obama approached the summit promoting cooperation and rebuilding often tense relationships, as well as promoting the global image of the United States.

Last month, Chavez said that Obama was at best an "ignoramus," following comments Obama made regarding the Venezuelan president.

"He goes and accuses me of exporting terrorism: the least I can say is that he's a poor ignoramus; he should read and study a little to understand reality," Chavez said.

At the meetings, Chavez gave Obama a copy of "Open Veins of Latin America," a 1971 book by Eduardo Galeano. The book is a study of U.S. and European imperialism in the Latin America.

Obama said that it "was a nice gesture to give me a book. I'm a reader."

The president's relations with Chavez sparked criticism from several Republicans. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., said that Obama's relations with Chavez were "irresponsible." Appearing on CNN Sunday, Ensign criticized Obama for "laughing and joking" with Chavez.

In a news conference at the conclusion of the conference, Obama said that his approach at the summit was to listen, allowing for more cooperation.

However, Obama preferred to focus on the summit as a whole, calling it "very productive" that allowed countries to move towards setting aside "stale debates and old ideologies." It is up to the countries to act on the progress made at the summit, Obama said, adding that it "is not simply words, but deeds" that will truly show progress.

Cuba was not present at the summit, although it was a constant presence with a focus on the relationship between the U.S. and the island nation. Obama last week eased travel restrictions on the nation, reversing policies from the Bush administration. Some are calling for Obama to lift the trade embargo on Cuba, although he has not made an indication he is ready for that drastic move.

Cuban president Raul Castro's pledge to discuss human rights issues is a "sign of progress," Obama said. The U.S. has open communication and economic relationships with several nations with poor human rights records, including China and Saudi Arabia.

At the summit Obama urged a shift in relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

"If our only interaction is military -- then we may not be developing the connections that can over time increase our influence and have a beneficial effect," he said.

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