PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad – Presidents Barack Obama and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela took the stage at the hemispheric gathering here like boxers in a much-anticipated match.
Crowds cheered. Women squealed in delight.
But instead of a knockout, Obama and Chavez shared a friendly handshake at the start of the fifth Summit of the Americas Friday evening.
“With this same hand, I greeted Bush eight years ago,” Chavez told Obama, according to a statement from the Venezuelan government. “I want to be your friend.”
The Venezuelan government called the handshake “historic” and hinted it was the first step toward thawing chilly relations between the two nations.
Obama, the statement said, approached Chavez first.
“Both leaders gave their hands in a historic greeting, after several years of tensions with the Bush administration, when the relations between Washington and Caracas had deteriorated,” the government said.
Obama also approached and shook the hand of Bolivian President Evo Morales, who took chiding from Patrick Manning, the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, over his recent hunger strike to pressure the passage of a law that would allow him to seek re-election. Morales, Manning said, should feast on local delicacies to feel like “un nuevo hombre” – a new man.