Barack, meet Hugo. Hugo, meet Barack.


A week of reconciliation between the United States and its Latin American neighbors took a turn for the better today when Barack Obama shook hands with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.

Venezuela’s press office quotes Chavez as saying: “With this same hand I greeted Bush eight years ago. I want to be your friend.”

Since Obama came to office relations between the two leaders have been volatile. Chavez initially made overtures toward Obama but later hurled insults when Obama suggested he was an impediment to progress in the region. A month ago he told Obama to “go wash his suit,” a Venezuelan expression which translates as “go wash your ass.”

Chavez’s relationship with Obama’s predecessor had completely broken down by the end of Bush’s tenure. Chavez had called Bush “the devil,” “a donkey” and “an asshole.”

Diplomatic ties reached their lowest ebb last year when Venezuela expelled the U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela as a sign of solidarity with his ally Evo Morales of Bolivia who had accused the U.S. of meddling in internal politics.

Many Latin Americans are hoping that the fifth Summit of the Americas, which began today in Trinidad, will be about America’s reconciliation with its “backyard.” The buzz is that with a new administration the United States’ frosty relation with its neighbors might finally be beginning to thaw.

Latin American leaders this week met in Cumana, Venezuela, at a summit of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), an organization set up by Venezuela and other leftwing Latin American countries such as Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua to provide an alternative vision to the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

The summit leaders released a statement in which they rejected the Summit of the Americas’ declaration, saying that it didn’t offer an adequate response to the global financial crisis, and called for an end to the U.S. trade and travel embargo on Cuba.

"The global economic crisis, climate change crisis, the food and energy crisis, are products of capitalism's decadency, which threatens to end with the very existence of life and the planet. To avoid this result we need to develop an alternative model to the capitalist system,” said Chavez, reading from a statement earlier today.

"We demand that the new government of the United States, whose arrival has generated some expectations in the region and the world, should end the long and disastrous tradition of interventionism and aggression that has characterized the actions of the governments of that country during the its history, especially during the government of George W. Bush,” the statement added.

It will be interesting to see which side of the diplomacy game between the United States and the Latin American left prevails.

My bet is we should expect a bit more yo-yoing first.