Sunday, April 19, 2009

Travel: Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton visits Trinidad and Tobago for Summit of the Americas; Speaks with Hugo Chavez

Trinidad and Tobago

Secretary Clinton arrived for the Fifth Summit of the Americas Friday night, April 17th.

She is greeted by Argentina's Foreign Relations Minister Jorge Taiana among others, as she arrives at the Hyatt Regency.

At the Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago where leaders from virtually every nation in the hemisphere gathered, President Obama addressed the opening ceremony of the Summit of the Americas:

"All of us must now renew the common stake that we have in one another. I know that promises of partnership have gone unfulfilled in the past, and that trust has to be earned over time. While the United States has done much to promote peace and prosperity in the hemisphere, we have at times been disengaged, and at times we sought to dictate our terms. But I pledge to you that we seek an equal partnership.

There is no senior partner and junior partner in our relations; there is simply engagement based on mutual respect and common interests and shared values. So I'm here to launch a new chapter of engagement that will be sustained throughout my administration.

To move forward, we cannot let ourselves be prisoners of past disagreements. I am very grateful that President Ortega did not blame me for things that happened when I was three months old. (Laughter) Too often, an opportunity to build a fresh partnership of the Americas has been undermined by stale debates. And we've heard all these arguments before, these debates that would have us make a false choice between rigid, state-run economies or unbridled and unregulated capitalism; between blame for right-wing paramilitaries or left-wing insurgents; between sticking to inflexible policies with regard to Cuba or denying the full human rights that are owed to the Cuban people.

I didn't come here to debate the past -- I came here to deal with the future. I believe, as some of our previous speakers have stated, that we must learn from history, but we can't be trapped by it."

Read more of President Obama's remarks on the Official White House Blog here!

Despite efforts by US President Obama and summit organizers to keep the three-day gathering on the topics of energy, the environment and public safety, Cuba has emerged as the headline issue for being the only nation excluded.

Earlier in the day, Hillary spoke on Cuba saying: "We are continuing to look for productive ways forward because we view the present policy as having failed... We welcome his comments and the overture they represent, and we are taking a very serious look at how to respond."

President Obama said it is now up to Cuba to make the next move if relations are to be further improved.

He said the US expected Cuba to "send signals that they're interested in liberalising" cautioning that relations would not mend "overnight".

The next day, Secretary Clinton spoke briefly with Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez on the second day of the Summit of the Americas.

The State Department said Chavez had approached Clinton during summit sessions Saturday, and the two discussed returning ambassadors to their posts in Caracas and Washington.

Subsequently, Hugo Chavez said Saturday that he is restoring Venezuela's ambassador in Washington, voicing hopes for a "new era" in relations after exchanging greetings with U.S. President Barack Obama at a regional summit.

Chavez's decision on U.S. relations came after a day of interaction with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other diplomats at a hemispheric summit in the twin-island Caribbean republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

Venezuela's socialist president told reporters at the Summit of the Americas that he will propose Roy Chaderton, his current ambassador to the Organization of American States, as the country's new representative in a move toward improving strained ties with Washington. The announcement crowns a week in which the Obama Adminstration rejected two centuries of U.S. "heavy-handedness" toward Latin America and raised hopes for a rapprochement with Cuba, with which it severed ties 48 years ago. Venezuela under Chavez has become a close ally of Cuba.

"This is a positive development that will help advance U.S. interests, and the State Department will now work to further this shared goal," State Department spokesman Robert Wood said.

Just to put into perspective how huge this is, Chavez once likened President George W. Bush to the devil. He has warmed to the new American president at this weekend's summit and he gave Obama a book about foreign exploitation of Latin America and repeated in English during a luncheon speech what he told the U.S. president at their first meeting the night before: "I want to be your friend." Obama exchanged brief handshakes and pats on the back with the Venezuelan leader.

Chavez said he'd instructed his foreign minister, Nicolas Maduro, to begin the process of making Chaderton his new U.S. ambassador.

"He's my candidate," said Chavez. "We have to wait for the United States to give the appropriate acceptance."

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