Photo: White House
President Obama traveled to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador on March 19-23, 2011. This was his first trip to Central and South America as a public official. After two days in Brasília and Rio de Janeiro, the President traveled to Santiago and then San Salvador. AQ Online provided continuous updates during his trip including reactions from bloggers in the region, analyses and video links of press conferences and speeches, and post-trip reactions.
Check back here daily as AQ Online provides continuous post-trip coverage.
On This Page:
March 10: President Obama's Trip: Hope for Latin America's Race and Inclusion (AQ Blog)
March 10: Do Brasil. Visita do presidente Obama ao Brasil (AQ Blog)
March 9: Obama's Expected Agenda in Latin America (AQ Daily Focus)
May 4, 2011
Typically, it takes time to gauge the full effect of a presidential visit, and the March visit by President Barak Obama to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador is no exception. If anything, because of the controversy that ensued over whether Obama should have taken the trip in the first place and because it was his first state visit to the region (previously he had traveled to Trinidad to attend a regional summit), it has taken longer than usual for the dust to settle and get a clear view of what was accomplished, both symbolically and substantively.
Few would quarrel with the fact that the trip was symbolically effective, an objective made easier in this instance by the earthquake, tsunami and looming nuclear crises in Japan and the multilateral decision to militarily defend opposition forces in Libya. These events enabled the Administration to contend in words, as well as in deed, that it was not going to let its important agenda in the region be derailed by troubles elsewhere. Certainly, little can be faulted with Obama’s headline speech in Santiago. It hit all the right notes in acknowledging the economic dynamism of the countries visited, heralding the democratic examples that they offer to the rest of the world, and welcoming their new role as global stakeholders. The photo ops were also a hit with the locals, whether it was of Obama visiting the slums of Rio de Janeiro or the tomb of the murdered Archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero.
The trip’s substantive accomplishments, on the other hand, left a less positive impression, at least with many of the pundits. The agreements reached, although on their own may be laudable, collectively did not add up to an inspiring, coherent strategic approach, even if that ideal has been made less feasible by the increasing diversity of the countries that make up the region. Relative to the Alliance for Progress, which the trip was timed to honor, the Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) that served as key deliverables for the President’s trip, seem ad hoc, and lacking in synergy and a defining narrative. The MOUs the U.S. signed with Chile included agreements to cooperate on disaster preparedness, research of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and on glacier monitoring.
There is also a sense that the MOUs reached with Brasilia, at least, got more fanfare than they deserved since many have yet to be completed and the purported benefits of others may not materialize for months, if not years. The highly touted U.S. Open Skies agreement with Brazil, for example, will require Brazilian congressional approval—not a slam dunk under any circumstances. Moreover, two other highly publicized agreements—the MOUs on maritime transport and tax information exchange—have yet to enter into force. Meanwhile the MOU on Major Global Events aimed at helping Brazil develop the infrastructure and security apparatus needed to host the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics won’t start to pay off materially for U.S. investors until much closer to the date of the events. Eluding the Administration was the one item that would have made the headlines—an announcement that Brazil will buy Boeing F18 planes for its Air Force—although President Obama reportedly did bring up the issue in private discussions with his counterpart, and Administration officials were given reason to be optimistic by Brasilia’s announcement that the contract with Boeing’s French competitors was not final.
April 1, 2011
President Obama’s trip one week later: Did it matter? It barely made a splash in the U.S. media, but at a regional and personal level it did. Talk to Brazilians, Chileans or Salvadorans and they appreciate the fact that he went there. Sure, he couldn’t do it with the festive, family-oriented aura that he had hoped, given world events, but it was precisely the frenzied swirl of those events that gave his trip to the region that much more credibility in the region.
For many of us (here I speak not of Latin Americans but Latin Americanists) rooting from the sidelines, his trip meant, “Yes, yes he does care!!!” (Maybe we’re just really needy.)
But the proof now is in what happens next. The personal relationships President Obama developed with Presidents Rousseff, Piñera and Funes are immeasurably important. There may be no tangible, obvious benefits of personal chemistry (speaking at least from a diplomatic standpoint), but these things are important. They allow a president to make a phone call, personally press a position and establish the foundation for the sort of partnership that he talked about.
April 1, 2011
With President Barack Obama having returned from Latin America a little over a week ago, Washington has again turned its attention to other world regions. The problem is that, even during the trip, Washington never really focused on our hemisphere. Yes, the timing of the Libya military intervention certainly did not help coverage of Obama’s first presidential trip to Central and South America. But don’t forget about the “Ugly Betty” effect—a term recently used by CNN International anchor Luis Carlos Vélez in reference to the popular Colombian telenovela Yo Soy Betty la Fea.
In the telenovela, Betty la Fea demonstrates intellect but is constantly ignored and overlooked due to her perceived lack of beauty; however, over time she becomes indispensable to her organization’s success. Given the substantial economic and political strides that Latin America has accomplished, Mr. Vélez makes a valid point. The region is a success story but people often tend to ignore it. The President’s trip once again demonstrated this unfortunate reality. Take the press conference in El Salvador for example; of the seven questions asked to Obama and Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes by domestic and foreign media, only three had anything to do with the region.
The three countries that hosted Obama during his five-day visit—Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador—are representative of the region’s success. They are flourishing democracies that emerged from dark political pasts, and are governed by centrists who enjoy bipartisan support.
Latin America exited the Great Recession with remarkable speed, having stored away sizeable fiscal reserves beforehand due to shrewd countercyclical measures—a sharp contrast to the massive debts blighting central banks in the United States and European Union. These initiatives helped lift millions from poverty and expand the Latin American middle class. The Institute of International Finance predicts Latin America’s economy as a whole will grow by 4.5 percent in 2011, building on the 6.1 percent growth in 2010. The president of the Inter-American Development Bank, Luis Alberto Moreno, even coined the 2010s as “the Latin American decade.”
March 24, 2011
President Obama landed at Andrews AFB late yesterday afternoon, completing a very significant trip to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador. The visits highlighted relationships, and societies, that have truly transformed themselves; opening vast new opportunities for cooperation that can help us meet big twenty-first century challenges. Many of them are daunting, but everything I experienced on the trip reinforces a sense of optimism I have about the Americas and about what we can achieve together.
The three countries the President visited have very distinct histories and national experiences that extend to their relations with us. But across all the President’s meetings—with Presidents Rousseff, Piñera and Funes, as well as other senior officials, plus civil society and business leaders, there was a common spirit. It was forward-looking and pragmatic—and unmistakable: a desire to work together in concrete ways to address real issues, in the Americas and in the world. The agendas for the President’s meetings were as varied as you can imagine. They included the crises in North Africa and the Middle East; economic growth and competitiveness; social inclusion, food security, and education; civil aviation and space cooperation; nuclear security; the fight against transnational crime; financial reform, and many other issues—as extensive a roster of today’s challenges as we would discuss with our most important Asian or European partners.
But just as noteworthy was the quality of dialogue. Absent were the formulaic repetitions of positions, or even finger pointing, that sometimes dilute the impact of bilateral meetings. Instead, I heard the President tackling even some of the toughest issues—often mutual challenges—in our relationships with candor and directness. His counterparts picked up on this immediately, and responded in kind. For example, on immigration, a major issue for President Funes, in particular, the President talked at length about the complicated politics that surround the issue in our society, and his commitment to continue pursuing comprehensive reform consistent with our values and national interests.
March 24, 2011
Conservative critics have had a field day criticizing President Barack Obama’s trip to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador this week. Former speaker of the house and now presidential aspirant Newt Gingrich implied the President was abdicating his leadership by taking the long-anticipated trip to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador and Fox News commentator Sean Hannity referred to it as a “vacation in Rio.” Besides revealing a troubling—even offensive—stereotype and disregard of the region, they are also wrong.
To be sure, the president’s long-overdue tour of South America couldn’t have come at a worse time in terms of world events. The NATO aerial campaign to establish a no-fly zone to contain Muammar Gadaffi from slaughtering his own citizens, the threat of nuclear meltdown in post-tsunami Japan, the Saudi-led crackdown against popular protests in Bahrain, and the budget battles in Washington provided plenty of reasons for staying. But it would have been a diplomatic disaster if he had remained behind.
In his January State of the Union address President Obama declared—somewhat unexpectedly—his desire to travel to Brazil. The president’s promise captured the imagination of Brazilians and offered a high-level opportunity to repair frayed political and economic relations with the world’s soon-to-be fifth largest economy. In the last 12 years, Brazil has risen from poverty and the periphery to become an emerging regional and world power, an ascendance that under former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva often caused diplomatic friction with the United States and provoked a dramatic shift in the region’s economic order in which China overtook the U.S. to become Brazil’s (and Chile’s) number one trade partner.
The inauguration of Dilma Rousseff on January 1, 2011 afforded President Obama the opportunity to start fresh. Moreover, given Brazil’s booming economy— expected to grow by over 7.5 percent this year—there was the opportunity to seal the deal on a range of economic cooperation agreements on everything from oil to trade and investment to scientific exchange. Correctly, at every step in the lead up, the administration and the President emphasized the economy and job-boosting potential of his trip—no stretch when you consider that over 20 percent of U.S. exports a year are bound for south of the Rio Grande, supporting 2 million U.S. jobs. In terms of quantity, that’s more than the United States exports to Europe and three times more than we send to China.
March 23, 2011
El Salvador was the last stop in what probably seemed an eternal five days to President Obama. Amid increasing domestic pressure regarding the intervention in Libya, Obama had to reduce an already short stay (although just by a few hours) in San Salvador.
President Funes, hoping the U.S. President would stay longer, jokingly said: “It is a pity because if you had stayed a little bit longer we could have invited you to get to see the beaches of our country that are one of the best in the region.”
The coincidence of Obama’s trip and the Libyan intervention unfortunately downplayed the importance of what could have been an even more historic visit. Before the trip, analysts, scholars and civil society engaged in Latin American issues speculated as to whether Obama’s trip represented a new realignment of U.S.-Latin American relations. The accuracy of that hypothesis is yet to be tested.
March 23, 2011
Head over to AS/COA Online to read a comprehensive breakdown of all developments yesterday in El Salvador, prepared by AS/COA Online Managing Editor Carin Zissis.
March 23, 2011
Coalition operations in Libya to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1973 is being met by mixed reaction in the Americas. On the one hand, the leaders of Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela have criticized the mission as being a foreign intervention in a domestic Libyan conflict. At the same time, countries such as Colombia, Chile, Mexico, Panama, and Peru have backed the military action to varying degrees. Colombia, for example, voted in favor of the resolution, while others abstained from taking a position. The mixed reaction may be traced to differing perspectives on state rights to self-determination regardless of political ideologies.
Brazil, a rotating member of the UN Security Council, abstained from the vote approving military intervention in Libya, but clarified that their abstention should not be seen as approval of the Gadaffi regime or as "negligence" of the need to protect Libyan civilians. The Brazilian Foreign Ministry further stated that their abstention was based on the uncertainty that military intervention would bring about the "immediate end to the violence or that it would protect civilians." Brazil issued a statement calling for a ceasefire in Libya on Monday, following President Obama’s departure from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Other Latin American leaders have been more aggressive in their reaction to the Security Council's actions. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa called the military action "unacceptable," and Bolivian President Evo Morales called for Obama's Nobel Peace Prize to be rescinded while criticizing the United Nations and the Security Council for adding to global insecurity. Paraguayan Chancellor Jorge Lara Castro struck a more diplomatic chord saying that approval of joint military action "reflected a weakness of the United Nations" while calling for "diplomatic negotiations to prevail."
March 23, 2011
Both Presidents of the United States and El Salvador delivered statements before the press in the Palacio Nacional de El Salvador in San Salvador yesterday afternoon.
Highlights from President Funes' remarks:
-El Salvador acknowledges that President Obama's visit is a recognition of its advancement toward democracy and overall effort to remedy longstanding challenges like security and poverty. President Funes sees Chile as an example of a thriving democracy that has overcome polarization and tyranny, as well as Brazil as an engine for poverty reduction. He commended Obama for his choice of these particular three countries for his first tour through Central and South America.
-Given the large Salvadoran immigrant population in the United States (and their financial significance in sending remittances back to their home country), President Funes enthusiastically supports efforts toward comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S. Congress.
-Narcotrafficking is not just a Salvadoran problem, but one that affects the entire region. President Funes is grateful that the Obama administration is invested in combating this trend through the CARSI initiative, and he argues that aggressive investment in social policies is the most effective counternarcotic strategy.
Highlights from President Obama's remarks:
-El Salvador is a noteworthy example of a Latin American country that is tackling longstanding challenges. Obama commends the courageous work of President Funes in terms of pragmatic leadership and consensus-building.
As a recognition of this, El Salvador is one of the first four countries in Obama's new Parternship for Growth international development effort.
-Obama announced a new initiative: the Crossroads Partnership, which is designed to increase border efficiency in order to promote economic growth. As the U.S. is El Salvador's largest trading partner, President Obama wants to ensure that this partnership continues.Further, President Obama is committed to working with El Salvador to creating more domestic economic opportunity, while also pledging to work toward comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S. Congress.
-The United States announced the Central American Citizen Security Partnership, which will work with regional partners (Colombia, Chile, Mexico, Canada) as well as international actors (Spain, European Union, Inter-American Development Bank) to prevent criminal activity in El Salvador and greater Central America.
March 22, 2011
Head over to AS/COA Online to read a news analysis of President Obama's speech yesterday in Santiago, prepared by AS/COA Online Managing Editor Carin Zissis. Also on the site is a comprehensive breakdown of The First Family's busy day in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.
March 22, 2011
Air Force One touches down in San Salvador at 2:45pm EST today, the last stop in President Obama’s three-country Latin America tour. The President will be in El Salvador for two days. According to the White House schedule released this morning, the President and First Lady will participate in an arrival ceremony, followed by a bilateral meeting between Obama and his Salvadoran counterpart Mauricio Funes and a state dinner in Obama’s honor. The two leaders will hold a joint press conference at 4:55 pm EST with a live audio stream available.
Yesterday, in an address to Latin America at Santiago’s Centro Cultural Palacio La Moneda, the President attempted to reset relations between Latin America and the United States. Obama touched on themes like renewable energy sources, security against transnational crime, inclusive socioeconomic development and the importance of sustainable democratic institutions. (Here is a transcript of the President’s remarks.)
As previewed in AQ Online, discussion topics in the Obama-Funes working meeting are expected to range from immigration policy to poverty to free trade to counternarcotics efforts across the region. Read more AQ coverage of Salvadorans’ expectations from Obama’s visit.
March 21, 2011
Speaking to the Chilean and Latin American public from the La Moneda presidential palace in Chile, President Obama signaled the start of a new era in U.S.-Latin America relations—one whose focus will be on enhancing security in the region, promoting inclusive development, strengthening democratic institutions, and securing sustainable energy resources. On the eve of the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s creation of the Alliance for Progress and amid political turmoil and regime change in the Middle East and North Africa, President Obama’s speech to the Latin American public was both symbolic and significant.
It is no secret that the U.S. administration supported—and even lent assistance—to the forces that overthrew Chilean president Salvador Allende’s democratically elected government in 1973 and installed a military regime with General Augusto Pinochet at its head. This is a part of Chile’s history with which the country continues to come to terms, serving justice to the victims of the regime’s human rights abuses.
In a joint press conference with President Piñera, Obama was asked by a reporter about the U.S.’ past role in Chilean affairs. He answered without missing a beat: “It is important for us to understand our history, and to learn from our history,” he said, but “we are not trapped by our history.”
March 21, 2011
President Obama’s visit to Chile coincides with President Piñera’s completion of the first year of his four-year term. Although his administration has been highly effective at rebuilding the massive damage of the 2010 earthquake and tsunami, Piñera’s approval ratings are at their lowest level yet. Almost immediately after being sworn in, Piñera took a hit in the polls.
The unnecessary delay in selling two of his most emblematic companies (a television station, CHV, and LAN Airlines) sparked debate on potential conflicts of interest. Although he was able to regain some support after the successful rescue of the trapped miners, a popular revolt triggered by the decision to raise natural gas prices in the south sent approval ratings in a downward trajectory.
Though Piñera later sold his companies (or provisionally signed them over to non-profit organizations) and promptly announced that gas prices would only marginally increase, several other minor unforced and unpopular decisions have underscored his first year in office. Some of these errors can be attributed to the difficulties of running a country ruled by the opposition for the past 20 years. But others should be understood as part of Piñera’s natural entrepreneurial character, which naturally entails a certain amount of risk-taking.
March 21, 2011
During a two-day visit to Brazil this past weekend, and amidst a backdrop of escalating events in Libya, U.S. President Barack Obama and his Brazilian counterpart Dilma Rousseff reinvigorated stalled political and economic relations between the two countries, signing a series of preliminary agreements that pave the way for stronger commercial links between the Hemisphere’s largest economies.
Obama’s trip—intended to bolster trade and investment ties with the world’s seventh-largest economy and prove U.S. commitment to a region increasingly engaged with China—kicked off with talks between the two leaders in Brasilia on Saturday morning. Following the leaders’ meeting at the Palácio do Planalto, Obama met with U.S. and Brazilian CEOs and delivered an address at the U.S.-Brazil CEO forum. Throughout the meetings around Brasilia, Obama stressed the opportunities for mutual economic benefit through increased cooperation, and cited the potential for the U.S. to sell “more goods and services to a rapidly-growing market of around 200 million consumers.”
After talks at the Palácio do Planalto, the two leaders announced the signing of a series of agreements to deepen ties as “global partners in the 21st century” in areas ranging from trade to technology, education to energy and air travel.
March 21, 2011
Chile is abuzz. President Obama landed at Santiago’s airport at 1:20 pm (local time) and will stay in the country for 24 hours. Every U.S. President since George H. W. Bush has been to Chile, but this is the first strictly bilateral visit in almost 20 years.
The last 13 months have been challenging for the country, with a series of events that placed Chile under the spotlight of international media, forcing a candid scrutiny of national strengths and weaknesses. A mega earthquake and tsunami, a transition of power from the center-left to the center-right, the tragedy of the trapped miners and their subsequent victorious rescue, and the celebration of the nation’s 200 years of independence have all made this an eventful period of time and a test of resilience that somehow redefines national identity. In this context, the visit of the U.S. President serves as a culmination after an intense year of soul-searching.
International news often praise Chile for institutional strength and economic success. But Chileans are not self-congratulatory. The country made a sustained effort to be included in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and now uses this yardstick to measure itself. Chile is a small open economy vulnerable to the swings of the global economy and self-aware of its light weight in international politics. For this very same reason, the visit of the U.S. President is sincerely appreciated, as it signals the respect Chile has earned from the international community and reinforces the ever-improving bilateral relations. If in the past Chile went north to ask for aid, or the U.S. went south trying to intervene in domestic politics to maintain the Cold War status quo. Now both countries talk of cooperation, common values and regional challenges.
March 21, 2011
President Barack Obama departed Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this morning and is scheduled to arrive at the international airport in Santiago, Chile, at 12:20 pm (eastern). He will hold a bilateral meeting with Chilean President Sebastián Piñera to be followed by a joint press conference at 2:05 pm (eastern) and a public speech at 3:20 pm (eastern) at the Centro Cultural Palacio La Moneda. The speech is being framed as an address to all of Latin America with comparisons drawn to his Cairo speech in June 2009.
Yesterday, in an address to the Brazilian people at Rio de Janeiro’s Theatro Municipal, the President reinforced the U.S.-Brazil partnership, economic ties and cooperation in areas such as infrastructure and energy. Read more AQ Online coverage of his Rio speech including a video of the address.
March 20, 2011
Speaking at the Theatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro—a building adjacent to Cinelândia Square where in 1968 the first demonstrations against Brazil’s dictatorship (1964-1985) were held—President Obama reinforced the shared values and history of the two countries on Sunday at 2:00 pm eastern. With a 2,000-person seating capacity, the audience paled in comparison to the 20,000 people expected if the speech were held outside on the square, the original location before Secret Service security concerns demanded the move. But although the audience was different both in size and the type of people who could gain access to the theater, the message was the same: now is Brazil’s time and the U.S. looks to Brazil to be an equal partner moving forward.
The U.S. President reinforced the similar journeys and histories of both countries in the fight for democracy and noted that “the progress made by the Brazilian people has inspired the world.” He also congratulated Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes and Rio Governor Sérgio Cabral for the “excellent work” they’re doing in implementing security and social programs in Rio’s pacified favelas. Earlier in the day, Obama had visited the Cidade de Deus favela.
Another key message in the speech was the many areas of cooperation between the two countries on the world stage, in the financial world, in science and innovation, and in energy security. With the speech coming one day after coalition forces began airstrikes in Libya, Obama also devoted a part of his speech to events unfolding in the Middle East and North Africa. Here, he emphasized how Brazil is an example for those fighting for democracy as it is “a country that shows how a call for change that starts in the streets can transform a city, transform a country, transform a world.”
March 19, 2011
Head over to AS/COA Online to read a comprehensive breakdown of all developments today in Brasília, prepared by AS/COA Online Managing Editor Carin Zissis.
March 19, 2011
Both Presidents of the United States and Brazil delivered statements before the press in the Palácio do Planalto in Brasília this afternoon. They were originally scheduled to take questions from the media, but this plan was canceled last night according to POLITICO.
Highlights from President Rousseff's remarks:
-Brazil wants to become a global leader in renewable energy, which to date has created millions of jobs among formerly economically-marginalized populations. Brazil wants to grow environmentally while still protecting its rich biodiversity, part of which includes wind and forest reserves.
-Brazil seeks a more balanced trade relationship with the United States. Dilma outlined some of the key Brazilian commodities in mind that she believes face barriers in the U.S. economy: ethanol, beef, cotton, orange juice, and airplanes.
-Brazil is also concerned by lack of reform in multilateral institutions, which reflect an "old world" according to Dilma. Specifically, Dilma said that "we work tirelessly for the reform in governance of the World Bank and of the IMF."
Highlights from President Obama's remarks:
-The United States has made the G-20 "the world's premier forum of global economic cooperation," to ensure that Brazil has a seat at the table. (This reflects a strong shift in global governance, as the G-8 was the preferred economic alliance under the Bush administration.)
-"As Brazil prepares to host the World Cup and the Summer Olympics... we're ensuring that American companies can play a role in the many infrastructure projects needed for these games." (Read the Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation to Support the Organization of Major Global Sporting Events.)
-The United States and Brazil are working closer than ever on issues that affect the hemisphere. Extending beyond the hemisphere, Brazil also joined the United States in the UN Human Rights Council in condemning human rights abuses in Libya. Also, Brazil and the United States are working together to promote food security and agricultural development in Africa as well as access to new technologies.
March 19, 2011
Watch President Obama's arrival at Palácio do Planalto, the official workplace of the Brazilian President, where he formally meets his counterpart Dilma Rousseff:
March 18, 2011
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a speech this afternoon titled "Our Opportunity with the Americas," where she made the case for President Obama's visit beginning this weekend and why the United States must further engage with Latin America.
Clinton referred to Latin America as "one of the central strategic opportunities for the United States today," and outlined the economic implications behind the President's visit, which begins tonight at 10:35 pm when The First Family departs from Andrews Air Force Base. Clinton continued by saying that the new emerging powers in Latin America and the United States must work together in the twenty-first century in the name of mutual interests and shared values.
In a nod to Latin America's transformation when she spoke of the region as "a story of political transition and a broad commitment to democratic development," Clinton pointed to Colombia's remarkable progress in counternarcotics in the ten years since Plan Colombia was first implemented. Clinton said that the totality of U.S. financial assistance to Colombia in the last decade is less than what the United States spends in one week for military operations in Afghanistan.
The transcript of "Our Opportunity with the Americas" can be found here, and the video is posted below:
March 18, 2011
A Cúpula Empresarial Brasil-Estados Unidos (The U.S.-Brazil Business Summit) is expected to take place tomorrow at the Brasil 21 Convention Center in Brasília. It is being organized by the Confederação Nacional da Indústria (The National Confederation of Industry), whose mission is "to defend and represent industry, fostering an environment that favors business, competitiveness and the sustainable development of Brazil."
A live video of Obama's expected address to the Summit (3:30pm local time, or 2:30pm EST) will appear below at that time:
March 18, 2011
The U.S. Embassy in Brazil announced yesterday that President Obama’s speech in Rio de Janeiro, scheduled for this Sunday, will change venue. The President’s appearance was originally scheduled to occur in Rio’s historic plaza Cinelandia, but instead he will deliver remarks at the Municipal Theatre. The embassy did not issue a reason for the change in location, and has not yet confirmed whether the event would be open to the public.
In preparation for the President’s visit, Brazilian authorities began securing the premises by closing off numerous streets on Thursday night. Some of the areas surrounding Cinelandia had been covered with anti-U.S. banners hanging from a roadside fence. Some social organizations and union groups have declared Obama a persona non grata and called for a protest the event, criticizing the U.S.’s foreign policy and the War on Terror.
There is much anticipation around Obama’s first diplomatic visit to Latin America as president. Brazil, the largest power in the region, will be the President’s first stop. As U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Tom Shannon said last year, Brazil and the United States have begun “encountering each other in places where traditionally we have not.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will discuss U.S.-Latin American relations in a televised speech entitled "Our Opportunity with the Americas” today at 2:00pm.
March 17, 2011
When President Obama lands in El Salvador on March 22 he will be facing the most challenging visit of his three-country trip to Latin America. Obama will have already met two consolidated, more mature, democratic states with clear commercial strategic value to U.S. interests.
Chile has trade agreements with over 60 countries and has been able to steer clear of the polarizing ideological discourse of the 1980s. Brazil, clearly a global and regional player, represents one of the top-10 trade partners of the United States. The mere size of the Brazilian economy puts it in a category of its own. And then, there’s El Salvador, the smallest country in continental America with intimate historic and demographic ties to the United States. Historically, the U.S. was actively involved during the civil war that occurred at the height of the Cold War, and demographically, Salvadorans represent the sixth-largest immigrant group in the United Statess. So why does El Salvador represent the most challenging visit to Obama?
March 17, 2011
The route from the international airport into downtown Rio de Janeiro along the Linha Vermelha passes through parts of the city unnoticed by the casual business traveler or tourist. Instead, a first-time visitor is likely to focus on the favelas dotting the hillsides in and around Rio, or on that first glimpse of the sea in anticipation of the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana.
On Saturday evening, U.S. President Barack Obama (in his first trip to Rio) will be taking that same road after he lands at Galeão Air Force Base in Rio. On Sunday, some of his visits will include Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue, a speech at Cinelândia Square (moved to the municipal theater as of March 18) and a visit to the Cidade de Deus, or City of God, favela made famous in the 2002 movie. The visit to Cidade de Deus is certainly a good choice given the implementation of Governor Cabral's Pacifying Police Units (UPP) strategy in that favela.
But as the President leaves Galeão Air Force Base on Saturday night or arrives on Monday morning, he—like other visitors flying into the adjacent international airport—may unfortunately not notice the community of Maré, which sits adjacent to the Linha Vermelha leading into the city center. The wall constructed along the highway to block the view of Maré, which seemed bigger when I recently visited Rio and Maré, is a concrete reminder of the isolation of one of Rio’s largest favelas. With 140,000 people living in Maré, its population is on par with that of Kansas City, KS, or Savannah, GA. But that is where the similarities—at least on the surface—end.
March 17, 2011
This morning, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera opened up on the specific subjects of the agreements and memoranda of understanding (MOU) that he and U.S. President Barack Obama are expected to sign upon Obama's arrival in Santiago on March 20. Chilean daily La Tercera reports that Piñera delineated said issues to be democracy, human rights, American teachers to instruct English courses in Chile, and energy. Although policymakers and the blogosphere predicted weeks ago that a nuclear energy information-sharing MOU would be signed, in light of the crisis in Japan this topic has become sensitive and politically divisive.
Piñera remains steadfast in favor of a nuclear energy agreement. In a conversation with Chilean journalists, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela appeared to sidestep a direct answer to whether the MOU would specify nuclear energy. He told the reporters that the energy agreement is intended to deepen scientific and technological cooperation, and that it would be up to the Chilean government to decide whether or not to pursue a nuclear energy program.
March 16, 2011
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was joined today at the podium in the press briefing room by Daniel Restrepo, Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, and Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications. In anticipation of Obama's visit, following are highlights from Mr. Rhodes' remarks:
-President Obama will hold three press conferences with the head of state in each stop on Obama's three-country visit.
-In Brasília, Presidents Obama and Rousseff will participate in a U.S.-Brazil CEO Forum on March 19. The CEO Forum is intended to probe the bilateral economic potential between the two countries and explore further areas for collaboration.
-First Lady Michelle Obama will visit local communities in each country to highlight her message of civic engagement and service. She will be particularly reaching out to young people in disadvantaged communities. Select examples include: a cultural performance in Brasília from disadvantaged youth; a visit to a local secondary school in Chile, where many of the students will be the first in their families to graduate from high school; and a meeting in San Salvador with representatives from a youth skills development program called "¡Supérate!".
-In Rio de Janeiro on Sunday, March 20, President Obama will deliver a speech to the Brazilian people. He will speak to the shared values between Brazil and the U.S., especially in the critical areas of democratic governance, social inclusion and diversity. (Side note: POLITICO reports that President Obama will highlight Brazil's own transformation from a military dictatorship into a thriving democracy in a nod to current political turmoil across the Middle East.)
-Economically speaking, in Brazil Presidents Rousseff and Obama will discuss the bilateral relationship within the larger context of international alliances. Rhodes mentioned that "the prominence of the G-20 as the preeminent global economic forum has given Brazil a very important seat at the table on global economic issues. Brazil has also played a role in International Monetary Fund (IMF) reform, where Brazil has become the tenth largest shareholder, having been a recipient not that long ago from the IMF."
Following are highlights from Mr. Restrepo's remarks:
-This trip will not be President Obama's first meeting with any of the three heads of state. He has met Dilma in her former capacity as Lula's chief of staff, Piñera at the Nuclear Security Summit hosted in April 2010 in Washington DC, and Funes when he visited Washington DC in March 2010.
-The visit is designed to underscore "the restoration of American influence and appeal in the Americas, and the effect that that has had in diminishing the space for those who try to make a living politically on an anti-American sentiment."
The full transcript of the briefing can be accessed here.
March 16, 2011
The earthquake in Japan and the emergency in the nuclear plant of Fukushima have had an unprecedented effect in Chile on the upcoming visit by President Barack Obama next Monday.
Weeks before the visit, the Sebastián Piñera administration had announced that a cooperation agreement on nuclear energy would be signed during the visit. After the nuclear crisis in Japan, that agreement has become a contentious topic of debate in Chile. Some environmental organizations and the center-left Concertación opposition have seized the opportunity to criticize the government.
Though the treaty will only allow for the preliminary steps toward the possible adoption of nuclear energy in several years from now, like Japan, Chile is also vulnerable to powerful earthquakes. The government has now tried to downplay the importance of the nuclear energy cooperation agreement, but until last week it had highlighted this agreement over dozens of others that will also be signed. As an inevitable result, the Japanese nuclear emergency has produced aftershocks in the political arena in Chile.
March 15, 2011
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was joined today at the podium in the press briefing room by Mike Froman, Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs. Following are highlights from Mr. Froman's remarks in anticipation of Obama's visit:
-The White House recognizes the sound fiscal standing of Latin America and how a U.S. trade surplus with the region positively benefits the American economy. Specifically, Froman said that President Obama's trip is "about the U.S. recovery, U.S. exports, and the critical relationship that Latin America plays in our economic future and jobs here in the United States."
-The Obama administration wants to deepen economic ties with the government of recently-inaugurated Dilma Rousseff. The U.S. has already doubled its exports to Brazil in the last five years; in 2010 the increase in U.S. exports to Brazil (35 percent over 2009 figures) outpaced export growth to the rapidly-growing East Asia region. President Obama understands that there is even more potential for economic cooperation, and wants to engage with the Brazilian middle class that now amounts to roughly half the population.
-Specific industry sectors to deepen these bilateral economic ties include: oil (given Brazil's petroleum reserves, which double those of the United States); renewable energy and biofuels (wind, solar, and hydro); and infrastructure (Brazil intends to spend $200 billion in preparations for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games).
-President Obama wants to build on the existing free-trade relationships with Chile (U.S.-Chile FTA) and El Salvador (CAFTA-DR). Both countries are important partners that have instituted meaningful economic reforms.
-U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, U.S. Secretary of Commerce and U.S. Secretary of Energy in addition to the U.S. Trade Representative, U.S. EPA Administrator and President of the Export-Import Bank will accompany President Obama on the Brazil leg of the trip to discuss G-20 issues and ways to further international economic cooperation.
The full transcript of the briefing can be accessed here.
March 15, 2011
Amidst nuclear meltdown in Japan, growing pressures to respond to the carnage in Libya and the specter of a possible U.S. government shutdown, flitting rumors have circulated that the visit of President Barack Obama to three Latin American countries may be cancelled or postponed. This would be a major setback in U.S. relations with the Western Hemisphere, signaling once again that Latin America is at or near the bottom of U.S. foreign policy priorities.
The President’s trip, indeed, comes at a crossroads for U.S. relations with the hemisphere. Never in history have the countries of South America reached so broadly beyond the hemisphere for commercial and political partners. And never has the divide between North and South America—from countries on the U.S. periphery (including Mexico and Central America) and those further away—been more acute. Obama’s visit to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador reflects the diverse challenges and opportunities for constructing a positive relationship amid the hemisphere’s asymmetries.
In many ways, the United States has already fallen behind in the region. Trade partners and trade patterns are rapidly changing. The United States remains by far Latin America’s largest trading partner, with trade totaling just over $500 billion last year. But once Mexico is factored out of the equation, the U.S. role is more limited. Asia—primarily but not exclusively China—is Latin America’s second largest partner, overtaking the European Union. China has now surpassed the United States as the top export destination for Brazil, Chile and Peru.
South American economies are also on much stronger footing than that of the United States, growing at a rate of 5 to 6 percent—double that of the U.S.—between 2004 and 2008. China in particular has boosted demand for the region’s energy, agricultural products and other commodities. And the U.S.-Latin America growth gap has only widened since the onset of the recession. According to Brazil’s Institute for Geography and Statistics (IBGE), the country’s economy grew by 7.5 percent in 2010, displacing France and the United Kingdom as the world’s fifth largest economy. Chile’s GDP growth in January 2011 was 6.8 percent higher than a year ago, while the U.S. economy struggled to top 2 percent.
March 15, 2011
When Air Force One touches down in San Salvador one week from today, President Obama will hold a working meeting with his Salvadoran counterpart Mauricio Funes. Anticipated discussion topics are immigration policy, poverty and coutnernarcotics strategy. The latter issue is underscored by reports yesterday that Mexican drug cartels have instituted an extensive operation in Central America. As U.S.-funded counternarcotics efforts like the Mérida Initiative and Plan Colombia have shown progress, cartels have begun to step up their influence in Central America—specifically the Northern Triangle of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Here, murder rates far exceed those in Mexico and cocaine seizures tripled from 2003 to 2008, according to the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime.
The 2008 arrival of the notorious Mexican Los Zetas gang in Central America has resulted in closer collaboration between Mexico and El Salvador. It has also led to an intensified U.S. focus on counternarcotics operations in the region, namely through the creation and implementation of the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). On his visit to El Salvador, Obama will highlight an additional $200 million in U.S. funding, which was unveiled last month by Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield. The Central American Integration System—a regional organization composed of Belize, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama—has requested $1 billion and has planned a donor conference in June 2011 to generate more funding.
March 14, 2011
The U.S. Travel Association, a conglomerate of American companies in the travel and tourism industry, issued a press release today that urged President Obama to consider adding Brazil and Chile to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) during his upcoming visit. VWP is an initiative operated by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs that enables foreign nationals to enter the United States visa-free for up to 90 days for tourism or business purposes. Currently, passport holders of 36 countries—30 in Europe plus Japan, Brunei, Singapore, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand—are eligible for participation in VWP.
U.S. Travel argues that in addition to shifting the Department of State's visa screening procedures to higher risk countries, the admission of Brazil and Chile into VWP would double the number of visitors from those two countries into the U.S. The press release claims this surge would generate $10.3 billion in spending inflows, directly supporting 95,100 American jobs. U.S. Travel's CEO Roger Dow says that Brazilian visitors spend an average of $5,114 per person when they visit the U.S., which is the highest per-person amount among citizens from the top 10 countries that travel to the United States.
A PDF of the U.S. Travel Association's letter to President Obama can be found here.
March 14, 2011
As the per-barrel price of crude oil has ballooned due to political uncertainty in Arab nations rich in natural resources, BBC Mundo reports that President Obama has directed his focus on Brazil as a key economic ally and potential long-term provider of petroleum. Brazilian geologists concluded earlier this year that a massive oil deposit, previously thought to measure out to 50 billion barrels, was in fact a gross underestimation by more than half the actual amount of oil reserves (123 billion barrels). Brazil is drastically ramping up oil production efforts.
At a White House press conference to address the rising price of oil, Obama referenced the importance of stepping up domestic oil exploration but also seeking new global petroleum partners. He cited his visit to Brazil this weekend as an occasion to build economic ties with his counterpart, Dilma Rousseff. Brazil and the United States possess 90 percent of the world's supply of biofuels, marking another propitious opportunity for joint collaboration. These topics are all likely to be on the agenda during Obama's planned meeting with Brazilian business leaders in Brasília on March 19.
Photo: Courtesy of Lou Gold
March 11, 2011
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held bilateral talks yesterday afternoon with her Chilean counterpart, Minister of Foreign Affairs Alfredo Moreno. In a joint press conference after their meeting, Secretary Clinton noted that President Obama's policy address in Santiago will be delivered almost exactly 50 years after President John F. Kennedy made remarks in March 1961 regarding his own vision for Latin America.
Both Clinton and Moreno lauded the shared values between the two allies. Minister Moreno commented: "Chile and the United States have a common agenda in human rights, on democracy, on economic development, on social inclusion, in the fight to international crime, on the care about the environment, and many other issues. And we have to work together." Moreno concluded by saying that Obama's visit will herald an important sign for Chile and the whole region.
Photo: Courtesy of U.S. Department of State
March 10, 2011
The concept will likely figure large during President Barack Obama’s planned trip to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador from March 19 to 23. This is so, not only for symbolic reasons (the U.S. President is a powerful symbol of inclusion and U.S. meritocracy), but also the significant advances and challenges of the countries he’ll be visiting on his first trip south of Trinidad and Tobago. Will he address it realistically or gloss over the ongoing challenges?
While it is a complicated issue, fraught with the complexities of economic growth, race, and social policy, one policy prescription for improving economic and social inclusion stands out above all others: Equal access to education. Education has been demonstrated to be the single most important variable affecting social mobility. And who better than Obama—the biracial son of an absentee father who went on to study at Columbia University and Harvard Law School—to discuss the benefits of quality education?
In recent years, the growth of the Latin American middle class, especially in Brazil, has been significant. But those gains are delicate and limited by race. More than a decade of stable economic policy coupled with social policy innovations has lifted over 40 million people in the region out of poverty in what was, and remains, the most unequal region in the world. These numbers are nothing to sniff at, but they belie the fragility of this new middle class. Most academic or technocratic measures of “middle class-ness” rely on measuring income, while most journalistic reporting on the middle class tends to cite these arrivistes’ access to credit...
March 10, 2011
Nos próximos dias 19 e 20 de Março, o presidente dos Estados Unidos, Barack Obama, visitará o Brasil pela primeira vez desde que assumiu o posto em 2009. Obama, que virá acompanhado de sua família, terá uma agenda protocolar com a presidente Dilma Rousseff, em Brasília, e visitará também uma favela no Rio de Janeiro. Além do Brasil, Obama segue também para o Chile e El Salvador, nessa que é também a sua primeira visita à América Latina.
No Rio, a expectativa é que Obama visite a comunidade Chapéu Mangueira, no morro da Babilônia. A escolha dessa localidade deve ocorrer por uma relação pessoal de Obama com essa comunidade, o que o faz tê-la citado em sua autobiografia. Neste morro, foi gravado, em 1959, o filme O Orfeu da Conceição, uma co-produção franco-brasileira dirigida por Marcel Camus a partir de um roteiro do poeta e cantor Vinícius de Morais, um dos inventores da Bossa Nova. O filme teria sido apresentado a Obama por sua mãe, quando ele era jovem.
A comunidade Chapéu Mangueira é também uma das Unidades de Polícia Pacificadora (UPP), zonas pacificadas pelo poder público após a expulsão de traficantes de drogas que controlavam a localidade e pretende ser uma resposta à comunidade internacional, fruto da pressão por melhorias na segurança pública durante a realização da Copa do Mundo em 2014 e dos Jogos Olímpicos, em 2016...
March 9, 2011
Assuming the U.S. government will be operational past the March 18 funding deadline, President Obama will make his first trip to Central and South America from March 19-23. Obama had previously visited Mexico before heading to the Caribbean in April 2009, where he represented the United States at the Summit of the Americas held in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.
President Obama will begin his Latin America tour in Brazil, where he will visit Brasília on March 19 and hold bilateral talks with his counterpart, President Dilma Rousseff, who was inaugurated on January 1. The central discussion points are expected to be infrastructure financing and energy cooperation, with energy an especially critical area for sustaining Brazil’s economic boom and future development. Obama will continue to Rio de Janeiro the following day, where he is expected to hold a CEO roundtable and visit select sites with his family.
Obama will arrive in Santiago, Chile on the afternoon of March 21 and be greeted by Chilean President Sebastián Piñera. The two leaders will have a working meeting and sign a joint declaration, followed later that evening by a state dinner at the Palacio de la Moneda. Piñera and Obama will discuss innovation and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, the latest round of which concluded last month in Chile. President Piñera has expressed a desire to have the negotiating countries (Australia, Malaysia, Peru, United States, and Vietnam) join the existing TPP signatories (Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, and Singapore) before the next Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Honolulu, Hawaii, in November 2011...
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.