Lula urges US to chart new course in Latin America

January 17th, 2009 - 1:40 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaMachiques (Venezuela), Jan 17 (IANS) Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has called on US president-elect Barack Obama to chart a new course of relations with Latin America, EFE news agency reported.Obama, who takes office next week, needs to maintain an egalitarian relationship with Latin America, said Lula who met his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez in Machiques, a town in the western Venezuelan state of Zulia Friday.

The Brazilian leader described the victory of Obama, a black man, as an “extraordinary gesture” and said: “Obama should transform that gesture of the US people into a gesture for Latin America … respecting our sovereignty and an equitable coexistence.”

Chavez, however, was less sanguine about prospects for improvement in the region’s relationship with the US under the leadership of Obama.

“I don’t have many hopes - though I haven’t lost them - above all when a statement from Obama just came out saying the same thing as (outgoing President George W.) Bush,” the Venezuelan leader said.

Obama, Chavez added, has said that Venezuela is a negative factor in the region and that Caracas supports armed rebels in neighbouring Colombia.

Chavez, whose oil-rich nation is a key supplier of crude to the United States, accuses Washington of complicity with an abortive 2002 coup against him and views the millions of dollars Venezuelan opposition groups receive from US public entities as interference in the country’s domestic affairs.

Similarly, US officials denounce Chavez as an autocrat who undermines “stability” in Latin America.

But Lula, despite his own radical pedigree as a one-time Trotskyite union leader, has had cordial relations with the Bush administration and is seen as well-placed to help effect a rapprochement between Washington and outspoken Latin American leftists such as Chavez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales.

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