LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. A gathering of leaders from throughout the western hemisphere wraps up today on the island of Trinidad. President Obama hopes to use this summit to redefine America's role in the region as a neighbor who is actively involved but not overbearing. On his way home the president spoke with reporters.
President BARACK OBAMA: I do not see eye to eye with every regional leader on every regional issue. And I do not agree with everything that was said at this summit by leaders from other nations. But what we showed here is that we can make progress when we're willing to break free from some of the stale debates and old ideologies that have dominated and distorted the debate in this hemisphere for far too long.
WERTHEIMER: NPR's Scott Horsley has more.
SCOTT HORSLEY: President Obama's first meeting with South American leaders produced one of many Kodak moments at this summit meeting.
Pres. OBAMA: Good morning, everybody.
(Soundbite of clicking cameras)
HORSLEY: As cameras clicked away, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez stepped into the frame and presented Mr. Obama with a book, "Open Veins of Latin America." It's a leftist history of the region with a subtitle, "Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent." The barbed gift was a reminder of the resentment that some Latin American leaders still feel towards the United States. But most took pains to say that resentment does not extend to the popular new American president. White House adviser Larry Summers was struck during a session on the economic crisis by how little blame was directed at the U.S., even by traditional critics like Chavez.
Mr. LARRY SUMMERS (White House Adviser): There was more anger at the common foes of poverty, financial instability and slow growth and less heat directed at the United States.
HORSLEY: Summers said instead of asking the U.S. for help during the summit, Latin American leaders talked about what they're doing on their own. In some cases that includes economic stimulus measures to complement the United States' $787 billion program. Mr. Obama is also trying to encourage more lending in the region. And during the summit he proposed a $100 million microfinance initiative to help bankroll tiny Latin American businesses.
Pres. OBAMA: Let me be clear, this is not charity. Together we can create a broader foundation of prosperity that builds new markets and powers new growth for all peoples in the hemisphere because our economies are intertwined.
HORSLEY: Meanwhile, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu opened talks on a region-wide effort to promote cleaner, more efficient energy supplies and to combat global warming.
Secretary STEVEN CHU (Department of Energy): My feeling is that there is this new mood that we've come here with an outreach and open hand to start a new chapter in the relationships. I'm very optimistic, the president is very optimistic that good things will come of this.
HORSLEY: But those new relationships are not without challenges. Some Latin American leaders still find it politically helpful at home to shake their fist at the United States. Likewise, President Obama has to weigh the political price he'll pay for taking steps that Latin American leaders want - whether it's freer trade, immigration reform or a softer stance towards Cuba. Despite those built-in differences, White House adviser Summers said the leaders found a good deal of common ground and most seemed to welcome Mr. Obama's willingness to listen.
Mr. SUMMERS: There was a sort of sense of candor and a recognition on both sides that there wasn't going to be complete agreement on every question and that that was okay. But that we'd get to the best places if everybody had as clear an understanding of how each other saw things.
HORSLEY: Even Hugo Chavez told Mr. Obama during the summit he wants to be friends. A comment the administration greeted with some skepticism. Denis McDonough of the National Security Council suggested that's one Kodak moment that still has to develop.
Mr. DENIS MCDONOUGH (National Security Council): While handshakes, and photographs and smiles are important, they're certainly not good enough. And there'll be tests on whether we have in fact entered a new era, a new set of relationships in the days, and weeks and months ahead.
HORSLEY: In a parting dig, Chavez suggested the next Summit of the Americas could be held in Cuba - the only country in the hemisphere that wasn't invited to this one.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, Trinidad.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.