Bush was the devil. And he smelled like sulfur.

That was how Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez often referred to former President George W., along with characterizing him as a dictator, a fascist and a cowboy he couldn’t talk to since he felt Bush was a “Texan who walks around shooting from the hip.”

Relations between the Republican Bush and socialist Chavez were like two boys on the schoolyard: taunting each other with name-calling and finding ways to outdo each other.

Chavez incurred Bush’s wrath with boldness and pronouncements of South American autonomy, while Bush-era critics accused the brash president of seizing dictatorial control of the equitorial country.

Many would agree that the real threat posed by Chavez was not necessarily to democracy, but to American oil interests in South America. Chavez, along with Evo Morales of Bolivia, has been leading a resurgence of transnational Latin American solidarity, nationalizing both nations’ oil reserves and adopting a “go it alone” attitude unseen south of the border for decades. 

When Obama took the oath of office, he too ushered in an era of accord, this time with the rest of the world.

Latin America, a pariah under the Bush admistration, is now finding open, though tentative, arms in the United States.

Chavez has changed his attitude toward the United States as well, evident at the Americas Summit last week when the presidents were photographed shaking hands and smiling. As he extended his hand, Chavez told Obama, “I want to be your friend.”

This moment is a symbolic gesture to the beginning of Obama’s foreign policy and the changing attitudes of Latin American nations responding to America. 

Unlike his predecessor, Obama is rekindling relations with countries that Bush refused to cooperate with.

Calling them friends might be a stretch, but Obama has created a more diplomatic atmosphere.

Aside from more cordial relations with Chavez, Obama recently took steps to change America’s relationship with Cuba. Although Cuban President Raul Castro was not invited to the summit of Latin America’s leaders, Obama declared last Monday that he would lift a 50-year ban on restrictions that limited the amount of money Cuban-Americans could send home and the frequency with which they could visit their families in Cuba.

Lifting the entire embargo is not in Obama’s plans, but his move presents a give-and-take situation rather than a frozen one. He says the next step Cuba can take is to free political prisoners, reduce its tax on money sent to Cuba, and grant new freedoms to its citizens as a next step in thawing relations with the United States.

In response, Castro said he’s willing to talk about “everything, everything, everything” with President Obama, including issues regarding “human rights, press freedom [and] political prisoners.”

Obama’s actions represent the broader theme that the United States is open to relationships with countries that don’t necessarily agree with American ideals, quite the opposite of the Bush doctrine. President Obama said that he wants to lead, rather than lecture, about democracy.

We agree that this is a better approach to foreign policy. By creating less hostile relations, or loosening trade embargos, Obama is establishing crucial relationships with the Latin American countries that Bush isolated over the years. 

And for that, we give him a hand.