[Marxism] NYT: Obama Defends Reaching Out to Chavez

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sun Apr 19 19:37:54 MDT 2009

The divisions over foreign policy in the US elites are deepening, though
support for Obama's course, at the top and also among the people more
generally, is actually pretty strong. 

We can expect these debates to heat-up, unless Obama simply gives up the
attempt to pursue a course significantly different than the one that took
shape under Clinton and was led into critical condition under Bush. This is
despite the apparent unity over what to do next in Afghanistan, Pakistan,
and Iraq. Over Iran and Latin America and perhaps Russia and other areas as
well, the fissures are widening.

They reflect, as Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has felt obliged to
notice, failed policies of the past, and the debates over whether it is
possible to replace them with tactics that will be more profitable and less
harmful in their consequences to US imperialism.

It takes no thought right now to "expose" that Obama stands on the side of
the US government and big business and not that of the oppressed and
exploited of Latin America, and to suggest without saying so that the
differences with past policies are of little or no significance for the
oppressed. It takes a little more thought, study, and observation to follow
the development, notice the openings, assess the possibilities and tactics
of taking advantage of them, and support efforts to act accordingly.

I think the outcome of this summit, on balance, opened up more possibilities
for the fighters for sovereignty, independence, and democratic and social
rights in Latin America.
Fred Feldman  

April 20, 2009
Obama Defends Reaching Out to Chávez 
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad — President Obama, facing criticism at home for
appearing too cozy with President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, defended his
overtures on Sunday, saying the handshakes and polite conversation the two
leaders shared here were hardly “endangering the strategic interests of the
United States.”

Mr. Obama, wrapping up a four-day swing through Latin America that included
a summit meeting of Western Hemisphere leaders here, said he believed he had
paved the way for “frank dialogue” with countries like Venezuela and Cuba,
countries whose relations with the United States are, respectively, strained
and practically nonexistent.

But, speaking at a news conference here, the president also sought to
calibrate his message more finely, aware that his gestures to those nations
may not sit well back at home. He said he has “great differences” with Mr.
Chávez and insisted that freedom for the Cuban people would remain the
guiding principle of his foreign policy.

“That’s our lodestone, our North Star,” Mr. Obama said. 

Mr. Obama came to this lush and mountainous Caribbean island with the aim of
forging new relationships in a region that felt ignored by his predecessor,
and on that score he clearly succeeded. He tamped down tensions over Cuba by
declaring he sought “a new beginning” there. By the summit meeting’s end,
Mr. Chávez said he was ready to send an ambassador to the United States.

Yet some old tensions remained. President Evo Morales of Bolivia confronted
Mr. Obama during a private session with a charge that the United States is
meddling in his country and had plotted to assassinate him. Mr. Obama
responded on Sunday, saying, “I am absolutely opposed and condemn any
efforts at violent overthrows of democratically elected governments.”

Back in Washington, the seemingly friendly images of the American president
and Mr. Chávez, who famously referred to former President George W. Bush as
“the devil,” drew criticism from some Republicans Senator John Ensign,
Republican of Nevada who said on CNN that it was “irresponsible for the
president” to be seen laughing and joking with “one of the most
anti-American leaders in the entire world.”

Mr. Obama’s gestures toward Cuba, which is estimated to be holding more than
200 political prisoners, also left some uneasy. “Release the prisoners and
we’ll talk to you,” Senator Lindsay Graham, the South Carolina Republican,
said of the Cuban government on Fox News Sunday, adding, “Put up or shut

The White House seemed sensitive to the criticism. David Axelrod, a senior
adviser to Mr. Obama, said on the CBS Program “Face the Nation” that
Venezuela must “stop this sort of rampant and tasteless anti-Americanism.”
Mr. Obama himself was more polite, the Venezuelan leader’s inflammatory
rhetoric has been “a source of concern.”

The president added, “The test for all of us is not simply words but also

Those conflicting sentiments underscored the delicate path Mr. Obama is
charted for himself at the Summit of the Americas, which brought together 34
leaders from the Western Hemisphere. On the one hand, the president wants to
heal old wounds and demonstrate that he is serious about listening to the
concerns of other leaders. On the other hand, he does not want to be seen as
soft on countries that pose serious human rights concerns.

Thus, while Mr. Obama ran for the Senate in 2004 on a platform of lifting
the 47-year old trade embargo with Cuba, he acknowledged he had since
changed his mind, saying that 2004 “seems just eons ago.” 

Mr. Obama said he did learn some things during his time here. He said he was
struck by the way other nations spoke of Cuba’s medical diplomacy; with 12
medical schools, the country turns out well-trained doctors that it sends
throughout the region to provide health care in impoverished areas. 

“It’s a reminder for us in the United States,” Mr. Obama said, “that if our
only interaction with many of these countries is drug interdiction, if our
only interaction is military, then we may not be developing the connections
that can, over time, increase our influence.”

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