Hugo Chavez is one of a healthy number of leaders around the world who’s been fortunate to have George W. Bush as a high-profile enemy. With the Bush administration pursuing policies of unprecedented unpopularity around the world, a good tiff with Washington has been a surefire popularity-booster in a variety of contexts. But it seems that those days are done in Venezuela:
President Hugo Chávez said Saturday that he was ready to engage in direct talks with President Obama in a bid to repair relations with the United States. The statement marked an evolution in Mr. Chávez’s view of Mr. Obama, whom he described last month as having the “same stench” as his predecessor in the White House.
“Any day is propitious for talking with President Barack Obama,” Mr. Chávez said at a news conference here with foreign journalists ahead of a referendum on Sunday that could open the way for him to hold on to power indefinitely. Mr. Chávez said he would be willing to meet with Mr. Obama before a summit meeting in April of Western Hemisphere nations. The White House has not yet responded.
I’m not sure there’s actually a ton to talk about on the U.S.-Venezuelan diplomatic docket—the Caracas-Washington feud has been something of a conflict about nothing. Certainly I don’t see direct diplomacy on the highest levels as particularly critical, though it would be nice of Chávez and Obama could say “hello” as long as they’re both at the same summit. The main point is that it’s nice to be back in a situation where an improved relationship with the United States is considered a popular policy objective.