Published April 20, 2009
When President Obama met Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Trinidad on Friday, he shook hands with a man who only four years ago called the United States the most "murderous empire that has existed in the history of the world."
Chavez has hardly mellowed, either. Last month, in a radio address, he called Obama a "poor ignorant person," and in January he accused the new president of having the "same stench" as President Bush -- just the latest lashes in a long line of his signature anti-American speeches over the years.
Here are just some of Chavez's anti-American blasts:
-- "The U.S. has bombarded entire cities, used chemical weapons and napalm, killed women, children and thousands of soldiers. That's terrorism." (Sept. 25, 2005: Washington Post interview)
-- The U.S. government under Bush is the "most savage, cruel and murderous empire that has existed in the history of the world." (Aug. 8, 2005: Caracas youth rally)
-- "Our real enemy is called the U.S. empire, and on Sunday, Dec. 2, we're going to give another knockout to Bush, so no one forgets that is the battlefield." (Dec. 1, 2007: election speech in Caracas)
-- "Capitalism will lead to the destruction of humanity ... (and America) is the devil that represents capitalism." (August 2006: speech in Vietnam)
-- American policy in the Mideast is "a policy of permanent aggression, of war, of terrorism by the U.S. empire. That's the great guilty one, the great Satan, as they call it here." (April 1, 2009: Tehran, Iran)
-- "The imperialist, genocidal, fascist attitude of the U.S. president has no limits. I think Hitler would be like a suckling baby next to George W. Bush." (Feb. 4, 2005: rally in Caracas)
-- Chavez accused the U.S. and allies of lobbing "imperialist fire! Fascist fire! Murderous fire! ... genocidal fire against the innocent people of Palestine and Lebanon by the Empire and Israel" during an address he made at the U.N. in September 2006.
-- ''The axis of evil is Washington and its allies around the world, which go about threatening, invading and murdering. We [Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales] are forming the axis of good." (Jan. 3, 2005: Caracas)
-- "The United States brought the (Sept. 11) attacks upon itself, for their arrogant imperialist foreign policy." (Sept. 12, 2001: Venezuelan TV)
-- "The hypothesis that is gaining strength ... is that it was the same U.S. imperial power that planned and carried out this terrible terrorist attack or act against its own people and against citizens of all over the world. Why? To justify the aggressions that immediately were unleashed on Afghanistan, on Iraq." (Sept, 12. 2006: Caracas speech)
-- "The devil came here yesterday," Chavez said at the U.N. general assembly, referring to President Bush as he made the sign of the cross and accused the U.S. of "domination, exploitation and pillage of peoples of the world." (Sept. 20, 2006: New York)
-- "I hope I am wrong, but I believe Obama brings the same stench" as President Bush. (Jan. 17, 2009: Caracas speech)
--"They are threatening any country that decides to be free." (Feb. 1, 2007: Caracas speech)
While those kinds of words would draw the dagger stares of the Secret Service on most offenders, they earned Chavez a warm greeting and thanks from Obama, who also received a gift from Chavez at the 34-nation Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain, Trinidad.
On Sunday, Obama defended the handshake and said his presence at the summit would help open up relations with other nations in the Americas.
"It's unlikely that 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.
But some veteran diplomats said Chavez would wield the gracious grasp as an important symbol to help consolidate his growing power in Venezuela.
"What he's going to say is that what he has been doing in Venezuela now has the seal of approval of the United States," said Otto Reich, who was ambassador to Venezuela under President Reagan. "He sees it as a green light to continue dismantling democracy in Venezuela."
Reich said Chavez is already using the handshake as propaganda and called the summit a missed opportunity by the Obama administration.
"What the president of the United States last night and today is trying to explain as a handshake, Chavez is already announcing as the greatest exito -- success -- in Venezuelan political history," he said.