Latin America: reactions as Obama takes office

Latin American leaders were generally cautious in their assessment of Barack Obama, who was sworn in on Jan. 20 as US president. On Jan. 19, during his weekly radio show, “Breakfast with the President,” Brazilian president Luiz In├ício Lula da Silva said: “I think if he wants to, Obama can improve the bilateral relations” between Brazil and the US. He urged the new president to end the US trade embargo against Cuba since “there is no scientific and political explanation for the embargo to continue.” (Xinhua, Jan. 20)

In an opinion piece posted on Juventud Rebelde’s website on Jan. 22, former Cuban president Fidel Castro wrote: “I personally harbor no doubt of the honesty with which Obama expressed his ideas” in his inauguration address. But Castro added that “despite his noble intentions, some questions remain unanswered. Like, how can a wasteful, consumerist system protect the environment?” (Bloomberg, Jan. 22) Argentine president Cristina Fern├índez de Kirchner, who was visiting Cuba when Obama was inaugurated, remarked that it was good to have a president with “intelligence and rationality.” (World Politics Review, Jan. 22)

The harshest words came from Venezuelan president Hugo Ch├ívez. During the week of Jan. 11 the US Spanish-language network Univision broadcast an interview in which Obama accused Ch├ívez of blocking progress in the region and “exporting terrorist activities.” On Jan. 18 Ch├ívez said he thought “the same stench is coming” as with Bush. “This is the US Empire we’re talking about,” he added. (World Politics Review, Jan. 22; La Jornada, Mexico, Jan. 25 from AFP, Notimex, DPA)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 25

[Note that after the inauguration, Chávez softened his stance somewhat.]