Obama bid to engage with Chavez 'has failed'
The Obama administration has been at pains to extend an open hand to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez but officials admit that a policy of trying to work with him has failed.
Officials also say that a central element of dealing with the Venezuelan President is to try, as much as possible, to ignore his insults and anti-United States incitement because tit-for-tat exchanges only bolster his status in the region.
Yet there appears to be no consensus about how to deal with him. One fundamental problem is the US's waning influence in Latin America -- calls for Venezuela's neighbours to show a united front against Mr Chavez has only alienated them further.
"At this time we are still looking to encourage and applaud positive actions but with Mr Chavez it is tough," one official said.
"And we're confronting those things that do cross the line, such as the oppression of the media and the oppression of dissent."
The White House is also wary of being too heavy-handed with Mr Chavez. Memories are still fresh of the failed coup attempt in 2002 in which the Venezuelan leader was arrested by the military for 47 hours before being returned to power. Afterwards, there were allegations of US involvement in the coup's planning, which the Bush administration denied.
Yet the allegations sparked outrage in the region and led to pro-Chavez demonstrations -- the worst possible outcome for policymakers in Washington. (©The Times, London)