It was a newsworthy weekend for President Obama as he worked his charm at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago. Obama smiled as he greeted and shook the hand of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who has never been shy about expressing his displeasure with American foreign policy. This caused a predictable outcry from the right, including from one Republican senator, who called it “irresponsible” to be “laughing and joking” with a dictator. But, as Obama rebutted, America elected him partly on his promise to reach out to those who disagree with us, and “having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez” wouldn’t endanger our “strategic interests.” Probably not, but it might put a damper on his free reading time.
Chavez, now thinking he and Obama are best buds, later presented him with a gift: Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, a delightful little book assailing centuries of imperialism in Latin America, including that of the United States — as if Obama hadn’t already heard enough about that from Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega’s 50-minute diatribe on Saturday. Whether Obama actually reads it — he’s probably in the middle of some Lincoln biography right now — plenty of other people definitely will. In just a couple of days since it was given to Obama, the book rocketed up Amazon’s best-seller list, from No. 54,295 to No. 2. Watch out, Oprah, there’s a new kingmaker in town, and his name is Hugo Chavez.