Tags: reich | obama | chavez

Otto Reich: Obama's Encounter With Chavez Damaged U.S. Foreign Policy

Monday, 20 Apr 2009 01:27 PM

By Jim Meyers

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Former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela Otto Reich tells Newsmax that Hugo Chavez is calling President Barack Obama’s “hobnobbing” with the Venezuelan leader the “greatest triumph in Venezuelan diplomacy ever.”

Reich, who also served as a special envoy and diplomat under President Reagan and both Presidents Bush, said it was an embarrassing mistake for Obama to be photographed accepting an America-bashing book from the Venezuelan strongman.

Newsmax.TV’s Ashley Martella noted that photographs snapped at the weekend’s Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago showed Obama hobknobbing with Chavez, shaking hands, and smiling with the Venezuelan, and asked for his take on that.

[Editor's Note: Watch former Ambassador Otto Reich discuss Venezuela, Cuba and Obama’s foreign policy - Go Here Now]

“I think it’s very unfortunate. I don’t think President Obama really understands, perhaps out of lack of experience in international affairs, the importance of symbolism,” said Reich, who was policy adviser on Latin America for John McCain’s presidential campaign.

“You don’t go around slapping the back of a foreign dictator, a would-be dictator in the case of Chavez, who has done everything in his power to undermine U.S. interests in the region and who calls himself an enemy of the United States.”

Martella asked whether people will “misinterpret” those photos.

Reich responded that the pictures certainly are being misinterpreted in Venezuela “despite what President Obama wishes. I think he probably realizes now that he made a mistake.

“But in Venezuela Hugo Chavez said last night this is the greatest triumph in Venezuelan diplomacy ever. Because what he is trying to do is to portray this as an endorsement of his policies, which is calls 21st century socialism but which is really just retread 20th-century fascism.”

Chavez is seeking to “portray this warm handshake, and a slap on the back which came later, as an endorsement of Chavez, which I’m sure President Obama did not intend,” Reich said.

“That is the way it is being portrayed not only in Venezuela but in the rest of the continent, all of Latin America.”

Martella referred to photos of Chavez giving Obama an anti-American book entitled “Open Veins of Latin America,” which Obama accepted and posed with for the cameras, and asked whether that was a mistake on Obama’s part.

“Absolutely it was a mistake,” Reich declared.

“It was also frankly a mistake by the staff. They should have prevented that.

“I worked for three presidents. I don’t think that would have happened with President Reagan or either one of the President Bushes. They should not have put President Obama in that embarrassing situation because this is very much an anti-U.S. book. Anti-Europe as well.

“It’s a book that’s about 30 years old, written by a far-left Latin American, a very unknown author. And now Chavez has put this book on top of, I’m told, the Amazon sales list.”

Reich, who was born in Cuba, was asked to comment on assertions from opponents of the trade embargo with Cuba that hurting the Cuban people is counter-productive.

“Hurting the Cuban people is counterproductive, and that’s why we should do everything we can to see a regime change in Cuba,” Reich said.

“The Cuban people have been hurt by 50 years of Marxist-Leninist dictatorship. It’s not the U.S. embargo that has hurt the Cuban people. Castro can trade with 175 countries in the world. It’s only the United States that doesn’t trade with him directly.

“In fact we are the single largest provider of food to Cuba. We provided $700 million in food to Cuba last year, more than anybody else — in fact more than the next several countries combined.

“So the United States is not hurting Cuba. What’s hurting Cuba is the Castro dictatorship — the last military dictatorship in this hemisphere.”

[Editor's Note: Watch former Ambassador Otto Reich discuss Venezuela, Cuba and Obama’s foreign policy - Go Here Now]

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