More than nine months after Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez expelled the US ambassador to his country, Amb. Patrick Duddy returned to his post. Duddy said Wednesday that he hoped his return would be "the first step toward more productive relations." Diplomatic ties between the two nations became strained under the Bush administration. In September, Chavez expelled Duddy in solidarity with Bolivia's president, who had kicked out the top US diplomat on accusations of inciting violence. Washington denied the charges and responded by expelling both countries' envoys. But both Chavez and President Barack Obama have expressed hope for improved relations. The two governments agreed last week to restore ambassadors.