Friday, April 17, 2009

Obama and Chavez's "Ghetto Handshake"

About an hour or two ago, I heard that Obama and Hugo Chavez shook hands. Of course, I had to find the photo. When I saw it I just KNEW that this (handshake in a room where everyone is shaking hands) will soon become a BIG right-wing rallying cry.

It is still very early, but the first video that pops up on Youtube already (like an hour after the shake) is titled "Obama Happy To Greet Dictator Hugo Chavez With A "Ghetto Handshake." Within an hour on Youtube, Obama is called an "anti-Christ," "evil" and "scary". Someone calls for his forced removal from power.... for a handshake.

Without any video to really see if Obama gave a "ghetto handshake" - or just an awkward clasp - I predict we may have another "bow" moment at hand. You've got the race element, the socialist element and the blame America element all in one glorious photo.

Reports say Obama went across the room to greet Chavez. After shaking hands, Chavez said "I want to be your friend" and something about desiring a better relationship. Obama supposedly did not say anything - he smiled and walked away.

Politically, Obama may suffer in the short term as the photo will ricochet across the world. People who don't know the name of the Venezuelan capital will tell us how terrible this is for our foreign policy. But, in fact, this was a genius move by Obama. To tackle Cuba and Chavez pro-actively, rather than being on the defensive for the Summit weekend, is brilliant strategy.

All the countries in Trinidad want a new US relationship with the region. Most importantly, that means an end to the idea of intervention in the internal affairs of others. That means money and support for subversion (Cuba, Bolivia), that means support for military coups (Venezuela 2002), that means orchestrating the forced removal of a sitting President (Haiti), that means an end to using aid and drugs programs for political reasons (Ecuador and Bolivia).

In the end, Obama will be judged by historians in this country and abroad by the result of his policies. But a sector of people will always be fooled by theatrics and symbols. We know what Obama really thinks of Hugo Chavez (an "obstacle to progress") and what Chavez thinks of Obama ("ignorant about Latin America"). Whether meaningful change is on the way or not, and both sides are able to find a common ground, this week will be remembered for its glimmer of hope.


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