News / Americas

Obama Aims to Recognize Democracies, Economic, Social Progress

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff speaks during the Citizen Rights Forum at Planalto palace in Brasilia, Brazil, March 15, 2011 (file photo)
Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff speaks during the Citizen Rights Forum at Planalto palace in Brasilia, Brazil, March 15, 2011 (file photo)

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are scheduled to arrive Saturday in Brazil on Saturday, on the president's first trip to South and Central America that will also take him to Chile and El Salvador. Obama will recognize the consolidation of democracies in the region, and reassure Latin America that the U.S. intends to step up its economic engagement.

The president has described the trip as an effort to forge "new alliances" across the Americas, and White House officials say agreements can be expected at each stop in areas such as energy, economic growth and security.

The Obamas first stop is Brazil, the world's 7th largest economy with a growing middle class, but which like other countries in the region continues to grapple with legacies of social injustice and poverty.  

A a news conference last month with Brazil's foreign minister, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the two countries are cooperating closely on food security, human rights, clean energy, global inequality and other issues.

"Brazil and the United States seek to promote open and accountable government, civil rights, a vibrant civil society, and social inclusion."

Louis Goodman, Dean of the School of International Service at The American University in Washington, D.C.,  said Obama should be effective in the messages he delivers, particularly as the first African-American U.S. president and a symbol of America's acceptance of diversity.

"People want to feel that the U.S. stands for diversity. They could not always be sure of that. Some of our foreign policy moves in the past suggested that we wanted things in a cookie-cutter image. And the fact that we have an African-American president who has a foreign policy style that lets other countries have their own processes is very, very well received."

Obama meets with President Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's first woman head of state, and delivers a speech to the people of Brazil from Rio de Janeiro. Brazil will host the Olympic Games there in 2016, and the World Cup in 2014.

Discussions with Rousseff, and meetings with Brazilian and American business executives, will focus on investment opportunities in areas such as as renewable energy, science and technology, education and innovation. These are all priorities for Obama's job-creation agenda back home.  

White House officials say Obama also likely will raise Brazil's discovery several years ago of major offshore oil and natural gas deposits, something he mentioned in a recent news conference about rising energy prices.

"When it comes to imported oil, we are strengthening our key energy relationships with other producer nations, something that I will discuss with President Rousseff when I visit Brazil."

Other likely topics are political upheaval in the Middle East, and Brazil's desire to become a permanent member of an expanded U.N. Security Council.

At a recent panel discussion in Washington,  Brazil's ambassador Mauro Vieira, said Brazil and the U.S. have their differences but this is  Obama's opportunity to reach out to Brazil and the entire region.

"The important thing about this trip, the trip and the visit itself, is the desire of the American government itself to reach out to the region and to discuss very broad and very wide agenda with every country," said Vieira.

In Chile, Obama meets with President Sebastian Pinera, the first conservative head of state since the end of the Pinochet era, and will deliver what the White House calls a major policy speech about the U.S. relationship with Latin America.

Roberto Matus, deputy chief of mission at Chile's embassy in Washington, said it will be an opportunity to lay out a clear American vision for an equal partnership.

"We should recognize the differences of the countries, respect the specificities of development and models of development of each country, and from there try to build a forward-looking vision, a partnership on how Latin America is a global player and how Latin America should be present in this area," said Matus.

In El Salvador, Obama will discuss counter-narcotics efforts, trade, and immigration with President Mauricio Funes, a former member of the leftist Farabundo Marti guerrilla movement, who now heads a center-left government.

El Salvador's ambassador to the U.S., Francisco Altschul, said the battle against organized crime and drug traffickers requires a unified regional response. "They don't respect borders, they don't respect laws, they don't respect anything. And that is why it is a regional problem and therefore the solution has to be regional"

Back home, Obama faces criticism that he has been slow to help the U.S. seize opportunities in Latin America, and compete with China and others for influence.

U.S. lawmakers have questioned why free trade pacts signed, but then re-negotiated with Colombia and Panama - both left off Obama's itinerary - have not yet been sent to Congress.

The president has said he is committed to moving both pacts to congressional approval as soon as possible. Among impatient lawmakers is Republican Representative Connie Mack who heads the House of Representatives Committee on Western Hemisphere Affairs.

"The administration’s lack of action is killing U.S. jobs. The failure to move forward on our promises is hurting important allies in the region."

Eric Farnsworth, Vice President of the Council of the Americas, said Obama must persuade Latin America that the U.S. is its best partner, though others are knocking at its door.

"We can put names on those opportunities - China, Canada - certainly rising Brazil, and intra-regional trade and relationships, and I think we can no longer assume that we are the only game in town, if we ever were," said Farnsworth.

There also is continuing criticism, especially from Cuban-American lawmakers, of administration policy on Cuba. There is concern about Honduras, and the domestic and regional policies of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, including his embrace of Iran's government.

Where Chavez is concerned, Goodman said that positive messages Obama delivers on his trip should speak for themselves. "By visiting two countries that are economic success, Brazil and Chile, and two countries that don't behave in an erratic way on the international scene, Brazil and Chile, he will be sending a message that this is what the United States wants to relate to."

The president is scheduled to arrive back in Washington next Wednesday.

You May Like

Pakistan Among Developing Counties Hit Hard by Global Warming

Pakistani officials hope developed nations agree to scale back emissions, offer help in dealing with climate change

Video Speed, Social Media Shape Counterterrorism Probes

Speed is critical in effort to prevent subsequent attacks; demographics of extremists lend themselves to communicating, establishing profiles on digital platforms

Islamic State Oil Trade Seduces Friends, Foes Alike

Terrorist group rakes in up to $500 million a year in sales to customers such as Syrian government, US-supported rebels and Turkey

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs

More Americas News

Cash Squeeze Maims Venezuela's Pre-election Food Imports

Hit by recession and slump in oil prices, crunch hurts Pres. Maduro's bid to fill shelves with imported meat, dairy products and medicines before Dec. 6 vote

Argentina's Ex-President Menem Sentenced for Embezzlement

Menem is currently a senator representing La Rioja province where he was born, that status as a lawmaker protects him from being imprisoned

Colombia Declines Rebel Extradition to US Amid FARC Peace Talks

Move seen as a goodwill gesture as part of peace negotiations that are approaching a March deadline

Temple Passageway May Lead to Aztec Ruler's Tomb, Experts Say

Aztecs are thought to have cremated leaders' bodies but burial site hasn't been found, so discovery at Mexico City's Templo Mayor ruin could prove significant

US-Cuba Talks Underway; Focus on Migrants, Illegal Drugs

Officials from both countries are meeting in Washington as part of efforts to normalize bilateral relations which had been frozen for half a century

Brazil Sues BHP, Vale for $5 Billion in Damages for Mine Disaster

The damburst unleashed 60 million cubic meters of mud and mine waste that demolished a nearby village, killing at least 13 people