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Omaba's Trip to Latin America:
Two Views:
Ari Shapiro /Jorge Castañeda

AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

U.S. President Barack Obama, left, kisses Brazilian President Dilma Vana Rousseff, right, following their joint news conference at the Palacio do Planalto in Brasilia, Brazil, Saturday, March 19, 2011.

Barack Obama U.S. President ended his tour of Latin America in El Salvador last Wednesday. In the first article NPR's Ari Shapiro is interview by NOR's Melissa Block on what President Obama accomplish. In the second article, Mexico's former Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda writes on what to expect in Omaba's Latam tour.

What Did Obama's Latin America Trip Accomplish?

AP/Luis Romero

President Barack Obama, third from left, and El Salvador's President Mauricio Funes, right, shake hands as first lady Michel Obama, left, El Salvador's first lady Vanda Pignato, second from left, and an unidentified protocol official speak during a welcoming ceremony in San Salvador, El Salvador, Tuesday March 22, 2011.

By Ari Shapiro

President Obama ended his tour of Latin America in El Salvador last Wednesday. In the first article NPR's Ari Shapiro is interview by NOR's Melissa Block on what President Obama accomplish. In the second article, Mexico's former minister of Foreign Relations Jorge Castañeda writes on what to expect in Omaba's Latam tour.

TRANSCRIPT
Copyright © 2011 National Public Radio®. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use.
For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, host ( Melissa Block is host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning daily evening newsmagazine )

President Obama's trip to Latin America this week was his first to the region. And despite the turmoil in Libya and Japan, the visit proceeded as scheduled.

NPR's Ari Shapiro reports from San Salvador on what the president accomplished in Latin America while the rest of the world's attention was elsewhere.

ARI SHAPIRO: Latin America's enthusiasm for the Obama family burst into view the minute the president and first lady walked into Brasilia's Planalto Palace on Saturday to face the scrum of local and foreign press.

Mr. JAVIER CORTES (TV Comedy Host): Hi, Michelle. Nice to meet you. We are Latin lovers.

SHAPIRO: That adoration came from the host of a Brazilian political comedy program. His name is Javier Cortes, and he says people in this part of the world identify with the Obamas. They can't believe the president took this long to visit.

Mr. CORTES: I don't know why he wait so much because we have samba. We have cachaca and feijoada, a lot of good things that we love it, yes.

SHAPIRO: Samba, cachaca and feijoada. President Obama and his family did sample the local food and drink here. They even took in some dancing during a visit to a favela, or slum, in Rio de Janeiro.

(Soundbite of clapping)

SHAPIRO: It was all part of a relationship-building spring break trip that has as much to do with business as pleasure.

President BARACK OBAMA: Our exports to this region, which are growing faster than our exports to the rest of the world, will soon support more than two million U.S. jobs.

SHAPIRO: This is how the president put it during the keynote speech of his trip at a cavernous underground cultural center in Santiago, Chile, on Monday.

Pres. OBAMA: In other words, when Latin America is more prosperous, the United States is more prosperous.

SHAPIRO: The global economic meltdown generally spared Latin America. Millions of people here have come out of poverty in recent years.

So when President Obama looks to the south, he doesn't see poor countries that need U.S. help. He sees buying power that could be a lifeline for the American economy. He also sees countries that have peacefully transitioned from dictatorships to democracy.

At an ornate theater in Rio, he described this part of the world as an example to people in Libya and across the Mideast.

Pres. OBAMA: Those who argue that democracy stands in the way of economic progress, they must contend with the example of Brazil.

SHAPIRO: Many presidential foreign trips come with a to-do list of deals and treaties that the U.S. hopes to secure, but that was never the focus of this tour.

Mr. MICHAEL SHIFTER (President, Inter-American Dialogue): I think it was heavy on symbolism and pretty light on substance.

SHAPIRO: Michael Shifter is president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a think tank in Washington. He says a symbolism-heavy trip is not a bad thing.

Mr. SHIFTER: I think he gained a lot of credibility by the fact that he didn't cancel the trip. I think Latin Americans really appreciate that, and that really can pave the way for some deeper cooperation in the region.

SHAPIRO: It's difficult to gauge success on a trip designed to build a relationship, as White House spokesman Josh Earnest acknowledged during the last stop in El Salvador.

Mr. JOSH EARNEST (White House Deputy Press Secretary): The easiest way to measure the results of the trip are not the kinds of things that you can measure immediately, but certainly over the course of months and years as opportunities expand in this region, presidential trips like the one the president just completed are an important part of laying the groundwork for those kinds of relationships.

SHAPIRO: With Brazil, one of the world's largest economies today, it's clear from this part of the world that the region's relationship with the U.S. has already changed.

Ms. JULIA SWEIG (Senior Fellow and Director, Latin America Program): The United States is no longer the prom king.

SHAPIRO: Julia Sweig directs the Latin America Program at the Council on Foreign Relations. She appreciates President Obama's description of new partnerships based in equality and mutual benefits.

Ms. SWEIG: And those are beautiful words, but there's a gut sense in Washington, in the Congress, that this region should defer to the United States. It's here. It's ours, and we call the shots. And there is in the State Department and in the White House a clear understanding that the rules have completely changed from that, that this is a new Latin America.

SHAPIRO: But she says instilling that new vision in Congress and across the United States may be an effort that takes decades.

Ari Shapiro / NPR News, El Salvador.

Ari Shapiro is White House correspondent for National Public Radio (NPR). Petroleumworld does not necessarily share these views.

This commentary was first published in NPR, on march 23, 2011. Petroleumworld reprint this article in the interest of our readers.

Obama Goes South

AP/Roberto Candia

President Barack Obama, second from right, shakes hands with Chile's President Sebastian Pinera, second from left, as first lady Michelle Obama, right, and Chile's first lady Cecilia Morelin, left, look on in La Moneda government palace in Santiago, Chile, Monday, March 21, 2011

By Jorge Castañeda

US president Barack Obama's current swing through Latin America will probably be short on substance, long on rhetorical flourishes and symbolism, and may include a few announcements affecting American business in the region. More importantly, he will see real success stories, and how Latin America as a whole has changed.

The main change is that Latin America is splitting in two. Indeed, this might be the last trip that a US president ever makes to Latin America. Later visits will be either to South America, or to Mexico and the Caribbean Basin.

Chile's success is old, if still inspiring, news. More than two decades of democratic rule and economic growth practically ensure that, simply by staying the course, the country will achieve lower-tier developed status by 2020.

And there is every reason to believe that it will stay the course, even if president Sebastián Piñera, who will preside over Chile's best economic performance in 15 years, is succeeded by former president and rival Michele Bachelet in 2014.

Even the country's proverbial inequality is beginning to shrink, albeit slowly, and lower-middle-class living standards are finally rising to where they should have been a decade ago.

Brazil's success is also well known. Millions of families have been lifted out of poverty. Inequality has diminished, though from astronomically high levels. The economy is growing at a sustainable pace. As long as China and India maintain their insatiable appetite for commodities, Brazil's exports will finance today's consumer boom.

In the international arena, the new president, Dilma Roussef, has pulled back from Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva's many excesses (indifference to human rights abuses, support for Iran and its nuclear program, and rhetorical anti-Americanism) during his last year in office, and may even have a present for Obama.

Brazil has been mulling whom to pick to renew its air force's fighter fleet, and, whereas Lula favoured France, Roussel cancelled that option and may be leaning toward the US.

El Salvador is Latin America's most interesting success story. It is far from a picture of health and stability, with high levels of violence and crime, mass emigration, a slow-growth economy, and perpetual tensions within its centre-left coalition government.

But next year the country will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Chapultepec Peace Accords, which ended its decade-long civil war. Ever since, a country that had never truly experienced democratic rule has enjoyed all the charms and vicissitudes of competitive elections, legislative battles, and rotation in power.

After a succession of conservative governments, in 2009 Salvadorans elected a president running on the ticket of the FMLN, the old guerrilla group that fought the Salvadorean army and its US ally to a draw in the late 1980s.

The right accepted its defeat, and the left has governed reasonably (maintaining the dollar as the national currency). The right has started to regroup, and Obama will surely point to this virtuous cycle as one in which the US has played a positive role, and can continue to do so.

This would be even more true if the US were to move toward immigration reform. El Salvador, together with Ecuador, leads the world in terms of the proportion of its population living abroad. It also has an economy that is not growing sufficiently to stem the ongoing tide passing through Mexico to the US.

Booming exports

Stagnant growth and emigration are two of the main factors causing division in the Americas. South America is booming, as India and China swallow up its exports of iron, copper, soybeans, coffee, coal, oil, wheat, poultry, beef, and sugar.

Its foreign trade and investment patterns are diversified and dynamic. With a few minor exceptions, migration is internal to the region, and a modus vivendi has been reached with the drug trade, mainly coca leaf and cocaine in Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia.

Moreover, relations with the US, while important, are no longer paramount. South American governments can afford to disagree with the US, and often do.

They have just elected a new president of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), whose headquarters are being built in Quito, Ecuador. As its name suggests, Unasur's main raison d'être is to exclude Canada, the US, and Mexico (in contrast to the Organisation of American States).

None of this holds true for Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean islands mainly the Dominican Republic, but eventually Cuba, too, and, in its own way, Haiti.

These are not mineral-rich or bountiful agricultural nations: some coffee and bananas here, a little sugar and beef there, but nothing with which to sustain a boom. While Mexico is America's second-largest supplier of oil, this represents only 9 per cent of its total exports.

Instead, these countries export low-value-added manufactured goods (Mexico does more, of course), and live off remittances, tourism, and drug-transshipment profits.

All of this is overwhelmingly concentrated on the US: that is where the migrants are, where the towels and pajamas are shipped, where the tourists come from, and where the drugs are bought. For these countries, including Mexico, stable, close, and productive relations with America are essential.

Obama will say all the right things during his visit, and will be cheered everywhere. But he should ponder the shifts taking place in the hemisphere. One area is freeing itself from US hegemony and is thriving, but may founder if Chinese and Indian growth slows.

Another is increasingly integrated with the US and Canada. Despite its current travails, it will discover a path to prosperity when the US does.

Latin America as a single entity is no more. Long live Latin America.

 

Jorge G. Castañeda, former Foreign Minister of Mexico (2000-2003), is Global Distinguished Professor of Politics and Latin American Studies at New York University. Petroleumworld does not necessarily share these views.

This commentary was first published by Project Syndicate, on march 21, 2011. Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011. www.project-syndicate.org. Petroleumworld reprint this article in the interest of our readers.

 

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Petroleumworld News 02/27/11

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