Balancing diplomacy on one continent with fighting on another, President Barack Obama on Monday praised Chile’s vibrant democracy and open society as the U.S. and its allies sought to subdue a dictator in Libya.
Obama spoke alongside President Sebastian Pinera at the presidential palace in Santiago, Chile, midway through a three-country Latin American swing that’s being overshadowed by the battle for Libya’s future.
Obama took questions from reporters for the first time since authorizing U.S. military action against Moammar Gadhafi’s defenses on Saturday. While defending the U.S. approach in Libya he sought to bring the focus back to his mission in Latin America, one of drawing America closer to its southern neighbors to boost cooperation and yield economic benefits for both.
“In our interconnected world the security and prosperity of people’s are intertwined like never before, and no region is more closely linked than the U.S. and Latin America,” Obama said.
The president said he foresaw greater cooperation with Chile on clean energy, educational exchanges and fighting drug trafficking. “What will characterize this new partnership is the fact that it’s a two-way street,” said the president.
Pinera spoke of Chile and Latin America’s place in the world, saying, “We are of age now and we need to fulfill our new mission.”
Obama recommitted himself to fully implementing the U.S. free trade pact with Chile. And he pledged to push for a transpacific partnership to economically integrate the U.S., Latin America and Asia.
Even as Obama praised Chile’s fast-growing democracy he avoided being drawn into an excavation of its past when a Chilean reporter asked him about ongoing investigations stemming from the country’s troubled past.
Protesters in Santiago on Sunday had demanded that Obama apologize to the Chilean people for U.S. interventions before and during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
“It’s important for us to learn from our history, to understand our history, but not be trapped by it,” Obama said.
“Because we have a lot of challenges now, and even more important we have challenges in the future we have to attend to.”
Obama was to deliver a broader speech later Monday afternoon from Santiago where he was expected to link the emergence of democracies in Latin America to the U.S. goals for the spread of democracy throughout the Arab world.
Obama, traveling with wife Michelle Obama and their two daughters, arrived Monday afternoon in Chile, where they will spend less than 24 hours before heading to El Salvador, the final stop on the president’s three-nation, five-day tour of Latin America.
Much of Obama’s public diplomacy here has been overshadowed by the use of military power in Libya. During his first stop, a two-day visit to Brazil, he balanced outreach to an increasingly influential Latin American neighbor with meetings and secure phone calls to approve missile attacks on Libya’s air defenses. En route to Chile, Obama was briefed on the operation in Libya during an hour-long conference call with top U.S. officials.
He’s didn’t escape the awkward, if not incongruous, contrasts during his stay in Santiago.
But Obama has blended his Latin American visit with the events in the Middle East to advance a single theme.
The successful transition of Latin American countries to democracy, he has argued, offers a template for a positive outcome in regions undergoing turmoil now. Chile is one example and Obama’s first stop in Brazil offered another.
“For the United States and Brazil, two nations who have struggled over many generations to perfect our own democracies, the United States and Brazil know that the future of the Arab world will be determined by its people,” Obama said in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.
Source: The Associated Press.