Continuing a back-and-forth series of actions between the U.S. and leftist Latin American regimes, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez sought out President Obama at a joint meeting Saturday morning to give him a book attacking capitalism and American intervention in the Western Hemisphere.
"Las Venas Abiertas de America Latina," or "The Open Veins of Latin America," by Eduardo Galeano, describes centuries of invasions and other attempts to influence Latin American affairs by outside powers, including the U.S.
Mr. Chavez handed the book to Mr. Obama after the U.S. president spoke at a meeting of leaders from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), which was taking place on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad.
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"I thought it was one of Chavez's books," Mr. Obama told reporters afterward. "I was going to give him one of mine."
A senior administration official later said the exchange appeared to be a publicity ploy by Mr. Chavez.
"Anybody who's been at international conferences with Chavez knows that if there's a camera around, he's going to find a way to get in it," said the official, who attended Mr. Obama's meetings and the White House had asked to brief reporters on the condition of anonymity.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that since the book was in Spanish, he doubted Mr. Obama would be reading it.
The book proffer comes a day after Mr. Obama sought out and shook hands with Mr. Chavez and his close ally, Bolivian President Evo Morales, at the opening ceremonies of the summit. It also follows a weeklong engagement with Cuba, which saw Mr. Obama lift some of the strictest areas of the U.S. trade and travel embargo on that nation, and which saw Cuban President Raul Castro indicate he would now be open to talking with the U.S. on expanding political freedoms.
But at the UNASUR meeting Saturday, South American leaders called for Mr. Obama to lift the embargo entirely, and several of them, including Mr. Chavez, criticized the U.S. for past actions in the hemisphere, according to the senior administration official.
"His comments about President Obama expressed the hope that things have changed. He was civil in his remarks. He was critical of the past, however," the official said.
Mr. Obama is spending Saturday in a series of meetings and working sessions.
"I have a lot to learn, and I'm very much looking forward to listening," the president said in his opening remarks to the UNASUR meeting. Reporters were permitted to cover Mr. Obama's opening remarks, and Mr. Chavez walked over to Mr. Obama as the reporters were being ushered from the room.
On Friday, at the opening ceremony of the summit, Mr. Obama acknowledged that the U.S. has made some errors, though he didn't say what he thought those errors were. But he also said other countries in the hemisphere must stop blaming the U.S. for all their problems.
"I think it's important to recognize, given historic suspicions, that the United States' policy should not be interference in other countries, but that also means that we can't blame the United States for every problem that arises in the hemisphere. That's part of the bargain," Mr. Obama said, drawing applause from the assembled leaders.
Lawrence H. Summers, director of Mr. Obama's National Economic Council, said Saturday that while leaders were critical, there was less anger at the U.S. than in previous gatherings.
"There was more anger at the common foes of poverty, financial instability and slow growth, and less heat directed at the United States or directed at imperialism, what was seen as imperialism," he said.
Away from the big meetings, Mr. Obama had some of his top lieutenants working to figure out what to do about pending free-trade agreements.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk has been assigned to see what can be done about a trade agreement with Colombia, which former President George W. Bush completed, but which Democrats have generally opposed.
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