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A year of drift in US-Latin American relations

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The greatest symbol of that is the regional body that was officially launched in December, called the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which includes 33 countries across the Americas but specifically excludes the US and Canada.

Many members of the body are strong allies of the US, but long-time foes such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez have said they hope it counters the other major regional body, the Organization of American States (OAS), based in Washington.

Such old-time arguments still flare. President Chavez, for example, has been weakened at home, as the country’s opposition strengthens ahead of 2012 presidential elections. In theory, that is good for the US, and the rhetoric between the two has been low-key this year. But it just flared again, with Obama sharply criticizing the state of human rights in Venezuela and the country’s relationship with Iran.

“We're concerned about the government's actions, which have restricted the universal rights of the Venezuelan people, threatened basic democratic values, and failed to contribute to the security in the region," Obama wrote in response to questions posed by the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal.

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