South American presidents hail dialogue with Obama

April 19th, 2009 - 4:04 am ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama Port of Spain, April 19 (DPA) The meeting Saturday between US President Barack Obama and his South America counterparts was described as “cordial, respectful and open” and one in which Cuba was “permanently” on the table.
Presidents Alvaro Uribe of Colombia and Tabare Vazquez of Uruguay agreed that the meeting at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago was characterized by “positive” and “constructive” dialogue.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet called it a first step in confidence-building.

Obama “opened up the possibility of a much more direct, fluent contact between the presidents of South America and him, something that was sometimes very difficult under previous governments,” Vazquez told reporters.

“We sometimes had the chance to talk once or at most twice with the president of the United States, and without dialogue and without a search for agreements it is very difficult to be able to move forward in a new relationship,” he said, adding that Obama “opened up that possibility.”

“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 as he opened the meeting. He pointed out the commonalities between the two sides, despite their apparent differences.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner told reporters that the hour-and-a-half long meeting was calm and everyone present was able to put forward their positions.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim told reporters that it was unlike a US president to meet separately with regional blocs such as the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) or the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

“I think this is a unique forum to treat Latin American and Caribbean questions with the United States, and if we want to make progress we have to set aside the notion of a homogeneous continent,” Amorim said.

“We have a group of developing countries, some of them very poor, others less so, but all of them poor anyway, and two very rich countries. And I think that dialogue is very interesting, it is a privileged space for dialogue, and I think we have to understand it as such,” he said.

Amorim also gave details of the much-anticipated interaction between Obama and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

The two men shook hands late Friday, and early Saturday Chavez gave Obama a copy - with a dedication, Amorim noted - of Eduardo Galeano’s essay Las venas abiertas de America Latina (The Open Veins of Latin America).

Chavez delivered what Amorim described as a “surprisingly short” and “very correct” speech, and he expressed the hope for change that Obama embodies and looked to the future.

Uruguay’s Vazquez said the issue of Cuba, which Obama himself addressed late Friday as the summit opened, was “permanently” on the table at his meeting with UNASUR.

“All UNASUR presidents agreed in the need to integrate Cuba to these summits, he agreed to consider the arguments, received them as he should and again spoke of his disposition to talk to the Cuban government,” Vazquez said.

Brazil’s Amorim noted that “there is an anomalous relation” with Cuba from the legal, economic and political points of view. He recalled that Brazil had already said that the measures that Obama had announced so far with regard to Cuba are “positive but too


He said the region was glad to see “an openness, a willingness,” from both parties and hopeful that some form of direct dialogue would be established.

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