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Obama victory a relief for Latin American left

Associated Press Modified: November 7, 2012 at 7:02 pm •  Published: November 7, 2012

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — From Caracas to Havana to La Paz, President Barack Obama's re-election victory was welcomed with a sigh of relief by many on Latin America's left, though others cautioned that the U.S. leader had not made the region a priority during his crisis-buffeted first term and was unlikely to do so in a second.

In Cuba, state-run news website CubaSi called the outcome a victory for the lesser of two evils, saying: "U.S. elections: the worst one did not win."

"The news of Barack Obama's triumph in yesterday's general elections in the United States was received with some relief and without great optimism," CubaSi wrote.

On the streets of Caracas, some said they worried that a win by Republican Mitt Romney would have brought a much harder line against leftist leaders such as their own President Hugo Chavez, and that they hoped another four-year term for Obama would bring relatively peaceful U.S.-Latin American ties.

"The other guy would have cut off relations with Venezuela," said Cesar Echezuria, a street vendor selling newspapers emblazoned with front-page photos of Obama celebrating. "It would have been a disaster for Venezuela if Obama had lost."

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has not commented since Tuesday's vote, but during the campaign he said that if he were an American, he'd cast his ballot for Obama. Despite years of strained relations between Chavez and Washington, the United States remains the top buyer of Venezuelan oil.

President Raul Castro's government is also often critical of the American president, but under a Romney administration it might have faced unwelcome rollbacks of Obama policies that relaxed restrictions on Cuban-American travel and remittances and increased cultural exchanges.

Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a Cuban government economist turned dissident who favors engagement between Washington and Havana, expressed hope that Obama may do more to improve relations between the two countries — even though U.S. law stipulates that Congress has the final say on the 50-year economic embargo against Havana, Cuba's chief complaint against America.

"We think Obama in this second term could take some more steps, for example letting more Americans travel to Cuba," Espinosa Chepe said. "Although we know these policies cannot be changed overnight, we also think commercial relations could be liberalized."

On the streets of Havana, some Cubans said they had been pulling for Obama but also expressed doubts that his re-election would have any real impact on relations.

Javier Menes, a bartender, called it the second potential "tsunami" Cuba has dodged in a span of weeks, the first being Chavez's re-election in Venezuela last month, given that his government provides key economic support and fuel shipments to the island.

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