Sunday, April 19, 2009

Hugo Chavez offers Spanish-language book as gift for President Obama

Updated Saturday, April 18th 2009, 5:32 PM

Vucci/AP

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez hands President Barack Obama book, 'The Open Veins of Latin America,' by Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano.

Hugo Chavez once famously dumped on President Obama's predecessor as "the devil," but Saturday, the Venezuelan strongman came bearing gifts for the new guy in the White House.

Chavez presented Obama with a copy of a book called "The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent" as the two presidents made the rounds of the annual Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.

The book is a famed Uruguayan journalist's treatise on foreign exploitation of the region.

Chavez said he signed it, "For Obama, with warm regards."

"It's an extraordinary book that helped me understand Latin America when I was young, our history, our reality," said Chavez, who apparently gave Obama a copy of the book in Spanish - a language he doesn't speak.

It wasn't clear whether Obama would delve into the tome soon, if at all.

"I thought it was one of Chavez's books. I was going to give him one of mine," Obama said.

U.S.-Venezuelan relations have been strained in recent times and hit an all-time low when Chavez famously compared George W. Bush to Satan in a speech at the United Nations. He recently called Obama a "poor ignoramus."

While Obama has clearly been chummier with Chavez, economic adviser Larry Summers cautioned reporters against making too much of these early overtures.

"Relationships depend on more than smiles and handshakes," Summers said.

Personalities aside, Obama made his way through the summit arguing for better relations with nations to the south, while at the same time urging those governments not to overblame the U.S. for their problems.

"I have a lot to learn and I very much look forward to listening and figuring out how we can work together more effectively," Obama said.

The President also got an earful about one nation that wasn't even present at the summit: Cuba, which was barred because of its undemocratic system of government.

During a morning meeting with a dozen South American leaders, Obama fielded repeated urgings to lift the U.S. ban on trade with the Communist-run island nation.

Obama has already lifted restrictions on Americans' ability to visit relatives in Cuba and send them money, and has said he is hoping for the Cuban government to ease repressive laws.

ckatz@nydailynews.com

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