Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Saturday he was restoring Venezuela’s ambassador in Washington, voicing hopes for a “new era” in relations after barely getting to know US President Barack Obama at a regional summit.
Venezuela’s socialist leader told reporters at the Summit of the Americas that he would propose Roy Chaderton, his current ambassador to The Organization of American States, as its new representative in a move toward improving strained ties with Washington.
The announcement crowns a week in which Obama rejected 200 years of US “heavy-handedness” toward Latin America and raised the highest hopes ever for a rapprochement with Cuba, with which it severed ties 48 years ago.
Chavez expelled the US ambassador to Venezuela, Patrick Duddy, in September in solidarity with leftist Bolivian President Evo Morales, who ordered out the top US diplomat in his country for allegedly helping the opposition incite violence.
Washington reciprocated by kicking out ambassadors from both nations.
Chavez announced his decision after a day of exchanges with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other US diplomats at a summit in Trinidad and Tobago.
A State Department official said Chavez approached Clinton during the summit sessions on Saturday and the two discussed returning ambassadors to their respective posts in Caracas and Washington.
Clinton “welcomes this development, and the State Department will now work to further that shared goal,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions.
The Americas director of the Carter Center, Jennifer McCoy, called Chavez’s announcement “surprising, but a very positive outcome of the summit.”
She said Chavez may have realized he had little choice but to try to improve ties with the US given Obama’s overwhelming popularity in Latin America and elsewhere.
“He can still criticize US policy,” McCoy said. “But it is much more difficult to criticize Obama the man.”
Chavez had stormy relations with the former US administration and once likened President George W. Bush to the devil, but he has warmed to the new US president at the summit, though Obama has been critical of him for his alleged harboring of and financing Colombian rebels.
On Saturday, Chavez gave Obama a book about foreign exploitation of Latin America and repeated in English during a luncheon speech what he told the US president the previous night at their first meeting: “I want to be your friend.”
Chavez told reporters that he’d instructed his foreign minister, Nicolas Maduro, to begin the process of making Chaderton his new US ambassador.
“He’s my candidate,” Chavez said. “We have to wait for the United States to give the appropriate acceptance.”
At the 34-nation summit’s inauguration on Friday, Obama won repeated applause with his promise to be an equal partner in the region and expressed his desire for a “new beginning” with Cuba, which has been suspended from the summit for 47 years.
Chavez has led the charge for demanding that Cuba be reinstated and praised Obama’s Friday night speech.