U.S. President Barack Obama met Wednesday with Argentina's new pro-market president, Mauricio Macri, in a sign of warming relations between the two countries.
Obama arrived early Wednesday in Buenos Aires for a two-day visit, which coincides with the 40th anniversary of a coup supported by the United States.
Security was boosted in the capital following Tuesday's terror attacks in Brussels, Belgium. Some subway lines were shut down, and streets were cordoned off near where Obama was to visit.
Wednesday afternoon, the U.S. leader held a town hall meeting with young Argentineans, answering questions on a range of issues, from ones on sectarian strife to scientific and academic collaboration between Argentina and the U.S.
The president said he remains optimistic about humanity's ability to forge closer ties, noting that it stems from the different ethnic and racial backgrounds of his own family.
President Barack Obama shakes hands after speaking at a town hall meeting with local Argentinians at the Usina del Arte, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, March 23, 2016.
"So in my family, I have the genetic strains of everybody. And it gives me confidence, confidence that's been reinforced as president, that people are all essentially the same," he said. "But we're also all bound by history, and culture and habits."
Obama also spoke of the need to collaborate on curbing the spread of the Zika virus.
"This is an example where our goal is to work with the Brazilians, the Cubans, the Argentineans, with everyone so that we are pulling our resources, solving the problem quickly, getting clinical trials done quickly, finding ways that are culturally appropriate to make sure people get medicines they need quickly."
He said he is "quite optimistic'' that researchers will develop a tool to diagnose the Zika virus and a vaccine to treat anyone infected with it.
Macri, who took office in December, has signaled he wants stronger economic ties to Washington and other free-market economies. Later Wednesday, the two leaders toasted each other at a state dinner.
The American president acknowledged that U.S. relations with Latin America's dictatorships in the 1970s damaged its image in the region, but said he hopes the release of long-classified documents about Argentina's "Dirty War,'' from 1976 to 1983, will rebuild trust.
President Barack Obama walks with Cardinal Mario Aurelio Poli as he tours the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral in Buenos Aires, Argentina, March 23, 2016.
Obama's visit coincides with Thursday's 40th anniversary of the start of a brutal military dictatorship in Argentina that led to the death or disappearance of some 30,000 people. On Thursday, he plans to go to a park built in memory of those victims
Declassified U.S. documents indicate that the United States supported the military regime despite its human rights violations.
Some critics of Obama's visit have vowed to stage protests. In the past, critics have called on the U.S. to apologize for its support of the military regime.
After the announcement last week that the "Dirty War" documents would be declassified, White House aide Ben Rhodes said the president believes "moving forward in the Americas or any other part of the world involves a clear-eyed recognition of the past."
The president's trip to Argentina comes on the heels of a historic visit to Cuba, the first by a sitting U.S. president in almost nine decades. During his meeting with President Raul Castro, Obama called on the U.S. Congress to lift the decades-long trade embargo on Cuba.
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