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Obama embraces Latin America

UNITED States President Barack Obama extended a hand to America's hemispheric neighbors yesterday at a summit where he offered a new beginning for US-Cuba relations and accepted a book about the exploitation of Latin America from Venezuela's fiery, anti-American leader.

At the Summit of the Americas in the two-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, Obama signaled he was ready to accept Cuban President Raul Castro's proposal of talks.

Obama exchanged handshakes and pats on the back with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, who once likened President George W. Bush to the devil.

Chavez gave him a copy of Eduardo Galeano's "The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent," which chronicles US and European economic and political interference in the region.

Later, when a reporter asked Obama what he thought of the book, the president replied: "I thought it was one of Chavez's books. I was going to give him one of mine."

Their exchange on the first full day of meetings at the summit followed a brief grip and grin for cameras that the two leaders had on Friday night when Obama greeted him in Spanish.

"I think it was a good moment," Chavez said about their initial encounter. "I think President Obama is an intelligent man, compared to the previous US president."

Obama hoped to make time for individual sessions with leaders from Canada, Colombia, Peru, Haiti and Chile, aides reported.

Obama was noncommittal about a possible meeting with Chavez. "I think we're making progress at the summit," was all Obama would say.

Obama said he would talk to the leaders about energy, security and other topics.

"I have a lot to learn and I'm very much looking forward to listening," the president said.

In an opening speech to the 34-nation gathering on Friday, the US president promised a new agenda for the Americas, as well as a new style.

"We have at times been disengaged and at times we sought to dictate our terms," Obama said to loud applause. "But I pledge to you that we seek an equal partnership. There is no senior partner and junior partner in our relations."


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