Barack Obama promised change, said Jorge Ramos Ávalos in Mexico’s Mural, and he is delivering it. At the Summit of the Americas last week, the U.S. president “broke through prejudices and negative policies that had been decades in the making.” Not only did Obama go right up and shake the hand of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, the socialist firebrand who has repeatedly denounced America, but he also said he would be willing to talk to the Cuban dictatorship. “Gone are the days,” Obama said, “when the United States was the big brother and the other countries were the younger brother.”
The biggest change is the utter transformation of America’s attitude, said Gabriel Guerra in Mexico’s El Universal. Obama exudes none of the condescension that marked the Bush years and many previous administrations. Instead, he treats Latin American leaders as equals. The U.S. is still the superpower, and nobody can forget that. But Obama tempers his charisma and confidence with “just enough humility to render the imperial project acceptable, even exciting, to his audience.” The new attitude ensured that this summit would not be like the last one, in 2005, at which “Latin American leaders easily earned domestic points with anti-American rhetoric.”
That won’t work for them anymore, said Bolivia’s El Nuevo Dia in an editorial. Polls of Latin Americans show that Obama is the most popular leader in the hemisphere. Chávez recognized that fact and altered his behavior accordingly. He accepted Obama’s warm overtures, joked with the U.S. president, and “even, to show his sincerity, announced the appointment of a new ambassador to Washington.” Bolivia’s own Evo Morales, by contrast, “chose another path,” a less accommodating and less successful one. He insisted that Obama renounce the alleged assassination attempt against him last month. “Otherwise,” Morales said, “we will assume that the United States was behind it.” Guess which leader came off looking more presidential?
Yet Chávez still managed to get a dig in, said Richard Gott in the U.K.’s Guardian. He gave Obama a copy of the radical leftist history Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent by the well-known Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano. The book is a passionately argued polemic about how Latin America was “dominated and exploited by its European invaders and later by U.S. corporations.” The United States is the only country in the region in which Galeano is not a respected figure, probably because his books were published by a socialist press and translated into English by a member of the U.S. Communist Party. But even if the gift was intended as an insult, Obama appears open-minded enough to give it some consideration. Who knows? It could even influence him as he “seeks to recast U.S. policy toward Latin America.”