Around the Halls: President Obama’s Visit to Latin America

This week, President Obama will begin a visit to Latin America where he will meet with leaders in Brazil, Chile and El Salvador. Brookings experts preview the meetings and discuss the opportunity to realign relationships and reestablish U.S. engagement within the region.

pereirac_thumb.jpg Obama Meets Brazil’s Past and Future at Cinelandia 
 Carlos Pereira,Visiting Fellow, Foreign Policy, Global Economy and DevelopmentLatin American Initiative

Similar to his Berlin trip a few years ago before he became president, President Obama has decided to speak directly to the people during his upcoming visit to Brazil this weekend. This important public speech will take place at the traditional Cinelandia (or cinema land) square, which is located in the heart of downtown Rio. Cinelandia square got its name from traditional movie theaters that used to be located in the area, but the square has become famous as place for political demonstrations, particularly demonstrations against the dictatorship and in support of Brazil’s re-democratization. It was at the Cinelandia where thousands of young students with their faces painted with the colors of the Brazilian flag demanded the impeachment of Brazil’s former president, Fernando Collor de Mello, in 1992.

The choice of Cinelandia for President Obama’s speech not only represents an opportunity for Obama to directly address the people of Brazil, but to also realign the Brazilian left with the United States. Cinelandia was the stage for several anti-American rallies and demonstrations in the past. But this Sunday, it could become a symbol of new era of cooperation between both countries. In 1968, Cinelandia witnessed the most important rally against the military dictatorship in Brazil — the so-called “March of the One Hundred Thousand,” where American flags were burned in response to U.S. support of the 1964 military coup in Brazil. In 1968, Dilma Rousseff, now Brazil’s president, was one of the many students arrested and tortured by the military regime. It is now remarkable to think that President Obama’s visit to meet his Brazilian counterpart may provide an opportunity to pave a new and promising road for cooperation between Brazil and the United States.

Also read “Obama’s Visit to Latin America: Redefining U.S.-Brazil Relations,” by Pereira and Carlos Aramayo »

casaszamorak_thumb.jpg President Obama in El Salvador
 Kevin Casas-Zamora, Senior Fellow, Foreign PolicyLatin American Initiative

President Obama’s upcoming visit to El Salvador has at least three important meanings.

This visit is about Central America, but is also about El Salvador and President Mauricio Funes. President Obama is clearly signaling that Funes will be his interlocutor of choice in Central America. A progressive yet pragmatic leader with good relations across the region, Funes has become the embodiment of a successful political transition in a country scared by a tragic political history. The fears that El Salvador’s political system would not be able to withstand the Left’s comprehensive electoral victory appear now entirely misplaced. Whatever problems the country may face now—and there are plenty—political instability does not seem to be one of them. As Obama visits Chile on the same trip, his stop in El Salvador implies recognition of the great strides that El Salvador has made in bringing about a modern vibrant democracy.

Read the full piece »

negroponted_thumb.jpg Prospects for President Obama’s Meeting with President Funes of El Salvador 
 Diana Villiers Negroponte, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy

By his visit, Obama is signaling assurance in the Funes government’s capacity to rebuild the economy, distribute wealth and contain the violence. We must hope that foreign investors will build upon this assurance to develop manufacturing plants, alternative energy production and agro-industrial businesses. If Funes builds upon the visit to attract new investment, El Salvador has an excellent chance of leading Central America toward greater prosperity.
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cardenasm_thumb.jpg It’s Time for Obama to Deliver on Promises to Latin America
Mauricio Cárdenas, Senior Fellow, Global Economy and DevelopmentLatin American Initiative

When President Obama took part of the Summit of Americas in Trinidad and Tobago in April 2009, he made a very positive first impression. His rhetoric was impeccable. He used the language of partnership and spoke about treating his Latin American neighbors as equals. But little action has taken place on the promises Obama made during the summit. Now is the time for him to deliver. 

Read the full piece »

kaufmannd_thumb.jpgObama in Chile: An Opportunity for Latin America?
Daniel Kaufmann, Senior Fellow, Global Economy and Development

During his visit to Chile, Obama will be making a major public address to the whole region. The president should steer clear of patronizing language toward the country (or the region), and instead recognize he has as much to learn from economies throughout the region as they have to learn from him and the United States.

While the United States has a longer history of democratic governance and industrialization, Chile should not to be treated as an unequal partner. The two countries rank similarly on most every aspects of governance. Chile performs better than its northern neighbor on Political Stability, Regulatory Quality and Control of Corruption, and slightly worse on Voice and Democratic Accountability, Government Effectiveness and Rule of Law. Both countries share challenges, such as struggling educational systems. Chile can benefit from U.S. experience regarding technological innovation. And the United States can perhaps learn from Chile’s exceptional macro-economic management, sustaining fiscal stability, financial sector integrity and a less divisive political environment.

For more, read “Amid Global Crises, Can Obama Make a Real Impact in Latin America?,” by Kaufmann »