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Peter Wilson: Chávez's Crackdown Makes U.S.-Venezuelan Thaw More Difficult

Peter WilsonNo doubt about it, U.S. President Barack Obama and his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chávez, stole the spotlight at this weekend's Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.

Pictures of the two men smiling and shaking hands made front pages of newspapers throughout the hemisphere, and Chávez's gift of “Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent” by Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano to Obama propelled the book to best seller status at Amazon.com.

Both men professed to want closer relations, ending nearly a decade of mutual suspicion and distrust during which Chávez once made headlines by calling former U.S. President George W. Bush "the devil" at the United Nations and accusing Washington of plotting his overthrow and assassination. Likewise, the Bush administration repeatedly charged Chávez with destabilizing the region through his populist actions.

As late as last month, Chávez, who has built his populist presidency on opposition to U.S. policies, called Obama an "ignoramus" and said he was no different than Bush. Hours after the summit, Chávez changed tack, saying he welcomed the possibility of the two countries exchanging ambassadors again—although both countries expelled senior diplomats in September.

The honeymoon may be short-lived as the new bonhomie coincides with Chávez's increasingly aggressive attacks against his opponents and his country's press following his electoral victory in February that paved the way for him to serve indefinitely as the country's president.

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