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A wariness towards Obamamania

For Venezuelans, the real news about Obama happened back in November. The inauguration is seen as a formality. Most minds are concentrated on next month's referendum in which Venezuelans will vote on an amendment to the constitution that would scrap presidential term limits. It's a law that President Hugo Chavez needs to have passed if he wants to stay in power beyond 2012.

Already there have been signs of unrest. Students protesting the amendment had tear gas bombs thrown at them. A militant group that supports the president claimed credit.
The mood in Venezuela regarding Obama's inauguration wavers between cautious optimism and skeptical pessimism.

Ultimas Noticias, an independent newspaper with pro-Chavez sympathies, ran with the headline "the black man takes power" (in a country with a large black population this directness is not considered racist). The article lists the tasks Obama faces and notes that he will have to employ all of his charisma if he is to succeed.

Sparring between Obama and Chavez began before he had even taken office, when last week Obama said in an interview that Chavez has impeded progress in Latin America and criticized his alleged funding of the Colombian guerrillas, the FARC. Chavez responded by saying Obama has "the stink of Bush."

Pro-government media apes the president's position. The state-run news agency, Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, quotes the Venezuelan ambassador to Washington, Jose Sosa, who says that Obama is likely to continue the Bush administration's policies in regards to Latin America.

Another state-run site, Aporrea, quotes ex-California senator Tom Hayden, who claims that Obama has no interest in Latin America. He suggests that April's Heads of State summit in Trinidad might be an ideal moment for Obama and Chavez to meet face-to-face.

Even opposition papers, which traditionally have been more in favor of the United States, are subdued. Writing in El Universal, Jose Gomez Febres comments that a new era of Latin American dialogue will "not be easy."  He points out that interventionist policies in Latin America have not only been the preserve of the Republican Party.

It seems that it will take more than eloquent oratory and a black man in the White House to convert Venezuelans to Obamamania. 

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