The following are comments made by Internationalist Pedro Mario Burelli:
PMBComment: Ambassador Jeffrey Davidow, Special US Envoy for the Summit of the Americas. has had to enter into full spin cycle to pull President Obama out of the pickle he got himself into by following a terribly naive and rapidly criticized strategy of trying to disarm Hugo Chavez but failing miserably to do so without beaming and giving the thug from Caracas a "whats up brother" kind of handshake. The media has had a field day (from Matt Drudge all the way to the NYTimes, and all others in between) - as have millions of mesmerized readers and viewers. This should have been expected, and carefully planned for by a White House that is so big into images and body language. We are now in the hard-backpedal phase, which is commendable - as fallbacks go - but could have been easily avoided.
What is going on in Venezuela at this precise moment does not allow for many, or rather any, niceties, and pretending that you are dealing with a democratic leader is a policy path that simply empowers a brutish autocrat and squanders even more political capital for a US President intent on gratuitous, and at times completely unnecessary, self-flagellation on the international arena.
Given the predictability of Mr. Chavez's antics, it would have been smart to equip the novice President with a bound copy of the OAS Democratic Charter "just in case" Chavez decided to steal the show (as we alerted he would). Imagine such exchange of gifts! As sensible as the interview below is, it would have been so much more significant if Mr. Obama had been ready with a good principled sound bite, or that bound copy, when Chavez presented him a Spanish paperback version of a book that Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, Carlos Alberto Montaner and Alvaro Vargas Llosa aptly called "The Idiot's Bible" in their bestseller "The Guide To The Complete Latin American Idiot". The fact that Mr. Obama, until a few days ago was an "ignorant man" in the opinion of the Oracle from Caracas, does not speak or read Spanish, might have coexisted nicely with the fact that Mr. Chavez does not follow a single precept of the democratic charter that was, pre-Insulza, meant to be a defining document for the hemisphere.
Read the interview below and it is easy to conclude that it is not just you and I that were disappointed (in my case also dismayed) by the images from the Port of Spain. PMB
OBAMA SUMMIT OF THE AMERICAS ADVISER INTERVIEW
Posted: Saturday, April 18, 2009 5:20 PM by Chuck Todd
Here’s the full transcript of an interview with Jeffrey Davidow, the Obama administration's chief adviser for this Summit of the Americas.
TODD: Hugo Chavez has been a constant presence it seems anytime the cameras have come on here at the summit in the last 24 hours. Is the administration concerned that that's the pictures America is seeing. Pres. Obama with Hugo Chavez, more so than with any other leaders down here?
DAVIDOW: Hugo Chavez has a real capacity to get his picture in the newspaper or on TV. A case in point, last night the president was at a reception. He shook hands with 33 other presidents, smiled with 33 other presidents; one picture gets in the newspaper. I think the press is focused on Hugo Chavez. I don't think Barack Obama is focused on Hugo Chavez.
TODD: This is an organization of 34 democratically elected leaders.
TODD: Do you guys view that Hugo Chavez is a democratically elected leader of Venezuela?
DAVIDOW: We have real concerns about erosion of democratic principles in Venezuela and we've made that clear publicly in many ways. He was elected. He's been elected several times. We do worry about issues like freedom of speech, freedom of organization, lack of checks an balances in Venezuela. I'd say that you know the fact that president was photographed shaking hands with him, a smile and a handshake does not mean a new relationship. We have a very strained relationship with Venezuela. We'd like to see it get better.
TODD: How does it get better? Is the ball in the proverbial court of Venezuela?
DAVIDOW: Yeah, I think so. For instance, they kicked out our ambassador and I think step they could take is by saying, Gee we'd like to have an American ambassador back here so we can start talking about the issues that we should be talking about with Venezuela: narcotics, energy, other questions relating to public safety, climate change, like we're trying to talk to -- and we are very successfully talking with the rest of the hemisphere.
TODD: Two weeks ago I was in Europe, G20, NATO, the only thing missing were rose petals at the feet of Pres. Obama. That's not the case here. Why does it seem as if a lot of these leaders are intent on hitting the United States?
DAVIDOW: There's a different historical experience between Latin America and the United States than between Lat- than Europe and the United States, but I don't really quite agree with you. I think Obama has been very well received here. There's a palpable sense among all the leaders, including those who are often critical of the United States that Obama is initiating a new beginning in our relationship and the meetings that he's having, the conversations that he's having are all in that direction and I think that's appreciated.
TODD: The instant takeaway from this summit is Cuba, Hugo Chavez. What is going to be the 9 month, 1 year marker of whether you guys see this summit as a success?
DAVIDOW: Look, I think it's unfortunate that the instant takeaway is Cuba and Chavez and that says more about press coverage than the substance of the summit -- not criticizing --. Look, what this summit is talking about is poverty in this hemisphere. It's talking about climate change in this hemisphere, particularly in an island like this, or with Caribbean nations here. They're really worried about rising sea levels. We're talking about other issues of how we can cooperate in education, how we can make the economic crisis that we're all confronting weigh less heavily on the poorest of the poor how we can use the international financial institutions like the IMF to help. I think the takeaway in 9 months is how much progress we've been able to make working cooperatively on those issues rather than the particular headlines of today.
TODD: Quick question, I know you're former ambassador to Mexico. It seems as if Mexico was happy with the visit yet they got nothing as far as their- nothing concrete from the president yet, whether it was on immigration, a lot of promises, is...
DAVIDOW: I disagree. The president has over the last two weeks made it quite clear that the help that he has promised under the Merida initiative, which is to give Mexico the tools, both the hardware and intelligence sharing that they need to fight the drug war, that that's on it's way. Stuff is already being delivered. There were really good conversations about cooperation...
TODD: Mexico is gonna have patience on the trucking issue, on the immigration issue and then...
DAVIDOW: Look these are issues that are not easily resolvable and they're not easily resolvable because they relate to domestic politics and domestic concerns in the United States on immigration, the president has made it clear and has made it clear here in Trinidad as well. That's gonna continue. We're also a nation of laws and we have to find the balance so we can be true to our tradition while having a system that works for everyone.