This past weekend Presidents Chavez and Obama met for the first time in seemingly nothing more than a glorified photo-op but it was an important one all the same.
After nearly 10 years of being in power - Chavez has never met with an US president. For that matter neither has many of the current heads of state in Latin America. Democratically elected presidents Correa and Morales haven't met with anyone high up either.
In fact other than the drug war our last president rarely looked to the south and based on the advisors Obama has chosen for the Summit not much is going to change.
From Greg Grandin's excellent piece in Tom's Dispatch:
"He has kept on George W. Bush's Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America Thomas Shannon and has picked Jeffrey Davidow to be his special advisor at the summit.
A career diplomat, Davidow's foreign service has been largely unremarkable, though his first posting was to Guatemala in the early 1970s when U.S.-backed death squads were running wild, and was followed by an assignment as a junior political officer in Chile, where he observed the 1973 U.S.-backed military coup that overthrew elected President Salvador Allende. Committed to the Clinton-era mantra of economic liberalization, these diplomats will never recommend the kind of game-changing ideas Gruening did."
President Obama can be only as good as his information - two men from the Bush and Reagan presidencies can't be a good sign - and his time in Chicago couldn't have helped any. The 'boys' from the University of Chicago are famous for using Latin America as a playground for their financial experiments.
Chavez, famous for recommending book(link http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/23/books/23chomsky.html) (and getting those books to sell out on Amazon) has handed Obama a copy of Eduardo Galeano's book "The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent" - a book the president should read, but sadly Galeano's book's latest edition is 1997. There's been a lot of change south of the border since then - Latin America has had a rebirth of Democracy - one that happened despite what the United States wanted.
Outside of Cuba the rest of the continent has not only elected leaders in fair democratic processes but elected ones that spoke to the will of the masses - something that Obama should take note of. The faces of those that voted for Obama on election day Nov. 4th looked very similar to the ones that voted for Correa, Chavez, Morales and Ortega.
To get the President and his staff up to speed on what has happened in this part of the global south over the past 10 years I've put together this very incomplete crash course - with recommendations from Greg Grandin, VenezuelaAnalysis.com's Gregory Wilpert and my own favorites- please comment with the one's that you recommend.
-BOOK - Empire's Workshop by Greg Grandin - Buy it here
-BOOK - Changing Venezuela by Taking Power by Gregory Wilpert - Buy it here
-DVD - The Assassination of Hugo Chavez and Palast Investigates: Rumble in the Jungle - Buy it here
-DVD - The Revolution will not be Televised (watch it here)
-BOOK - The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein - Buy it here and DVD -The Take - Buy it here
-Subscription to NACLA (http://www.nacla.org)
-BOOK - Colombia and the United States : War, Unrest, and Destabilization by Mario A. Murillo - Buy it here
From Gregory Grandin, author of Empire's Workshop
"William Appleman Williams, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy (buy it here)(being re-released for its 50th anniversary). It was published a month after the Cuban Revolution, and it reads like a script for the US-produced horror movie that followed -- in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Africa.
From Gregory Wilpert of VenezuelaAnalysis.com and author of Changing Venezuela by Taking Power
"Hopes and Prospects"- which focuses on Latin America (buy it here).
"Interventions"- (buy it here), which has a couple of essays on Latin America."