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Obama's Road Show Rolls On

AFRO.com, News Report, Sean Yoes Posted: Apr 20, 2009

The Summit of the Americas ends today in Trinidad and Tobago, a conference President Barack Obama called very productive.

During a news conference President Obama was asked about the summits more controversial moments including his outreach to Cuba.

What I have said and I think what my entire administration has acknowledged is the policy weve had in place for 50 years hasnt worked the way we want it to, Obama said.

The Cuban people are not free and that is our north star when it comes to our policy in Cuba.

Although the president said he wants to relax the nations tense relations with Cuba, he came short of declaring any immediate plans to end the U.S. embargo on the communist nation.

I think that as a starting point its important for us not to think that completely ignoring Cuba is somehow going to change policy. And the fact that you had Raul Castro say hes willing to have his government discuss with oursnot just issues of lifting the embargobut issues of human rights, political prisoners, thats a sign of progress, Obama said.

Obama also discussed his encounters with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. On the first day of the summit there was a much-scrutinized handshake between Obama and the Socialist leader.

And yesterday Chavez presented Obama with a book, Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, by famed Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano.

According to the AP, Chavez said he inscribed inside the hardcover copy of the book, For Obama, with warm regards.

I think it was a nice gesture to give me a book, Im a reader, Obama said.

The exchange with Chavez, who has been openly scornful of U.S. leaders and policy, has already drawn criticism in Washington. Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) told CNN the meeting was irresponsible.

This is a person who is one of the most anti-American leaders in the entire world, Ensign said. He is a brutal dictator and human rights violations are very, very prevalent in Venezuela and you have to be careful.

However, Obama suggested Ensigns comments were rooted in partisan politics..

We had this debate throughout the campaign, Obama said. The whole notion was that somehow if we showed courtesy or opened up dialogues with governments that had been previously hostile to us that would somehow be a sign of weakness. And the American people didnt buy it.

Obama said one gesture would not compromise national security.

You take a country like VenezuelaI have great differences with Hugo Chavez on matters of economic policy and matters of foreign policyhis rhetoric directed at the United States has been inflammatoryits unlikely as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez that we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States, Obama said.

Before the Summit of the Americas in the Caribbean, Obama was in Mexico on Thursday where he met with Mexican President Felipe Calderon. The two leaders forged an agreement to confront the causes of violence stemming from the flow of illegal drugs from Mexico to the United States.

Ultimately, President Obama said the leaders of the 34 countries represented at the summit would not see eye to eye on every issue, but that it is possible to disagree respectfully.

Obama returns to Washington this evening.

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