LATIN AMERICA: With World Watching Japan And Libya, Obama Ducks South Of The Border
Despite the unfolding crises in Libya and Japan, U.S. President Barack Obama stuck to his Latin America agenda with stopovers in Brazil, Chile and El Salvador.
Obama wined and dined in Santiago with Chilean President Sebastian Piñera (Gobierno de Chile)
EYES INSIDE – LATIN AMERICA
Perhaps the biggest news from U.S. President Barack Obama's first official tour of Latin America was the lack of American and global coverage of the impact of the trip on Brazil, Chile and El Salvador. The regional press is still discussing how much Obama's statements on the Libyan crisis overshadowed the local significance of the president's tour.
Washington officials had refused to cancel Obama's trip, which was announced in January, despite more pressing concerns with military intervention in Libya and the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake.
On Tuesday, on the final leg of his tour, Obama, first lady Michelle and their two daughters made a stopover in El Salvador, where he met with President Mauricio Funes. The two discussed migratory regulations for the more than one million Salvadorans who live in the United States. Obama also announced anti-drug trafficking funding.
Following their meeting, the two moderate leaders visited the grave of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, who was murdered 31 years ago while celebrating mass in the midst of El Salvador's bloody civil war.
In Chile, members of the center-left Concertación alliance, along with the Chilean communist party and human rights groups, had asked Obama to apologize for the U.S. role in the 1973 coup that toppled Marxist president Salvador Allende. Obama made no mention of the coup, much less issue an apology. Some lawmakers from the governing Alianza coalition called Concertación officials "opportunist," noting that during their 20 years in power following Augusto Pinochet's rule Concertación leaders never made such a demand on any U.S. president.
In a spontaneous meeting with reporters, President Sebastián Piñera revealed that Obama had given him a U.S. military flight jacket, which he had yet to try on. In return, Piñera offered the U.S. president a box of Chilean wine. "Michelle is simply charming," the Chilean leader said.
Even though some 2,000 Chilean police officers were called out to help protect the U.S. president, some analysts believe that Obama selected Chile as his second stop because "it is not a particularly violent country."
It was a different story in Brazil, where security was an issue during Obama's two-day visit. Officials canceled an outdoor speech he was expected to deliver in Rio de Janiero and moved it indoors to a municipal theater. His advisors were concerned there would be violent protests stemming from the UN Security Council's decision the previous day authorizing military action in Libya.
While thousands cheered the African-American president, one man felt dejected. Rinaldo Gaudêncio, who bears a striking resemblance to Obama and is known throughout Rio as the US president's "official double," said he was sad because he never got to meet his idol. "He Obama did not even see me as I stood on the side under some very strong light," Gaudêncio said.
The first family visited Rio's famous Christ the Redeemer statute. Later the president toured Rio's biggest slum, City of God, where he wanted to get a first hand look at the city's "soft power" program, a much lauded strategy that combines traditional policing with a focus on social action and development.
In his meeting with President Dilma Rousseff, Obama pushed for the sale of F-18 Super Hornets for Brazil's military. The Boeing jet fighters are competing for the Brazilian bid with planes made by Saab, as well as with French Rafale fighter jets manufactured by Dassault Aviation.