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Diplomacy: Brazil is Obama's first stop in Latin America trip

March 18, 2011 |  7:30 pm

Dilma 
President Obama's first trip to Latin American starts Saturday with a stop in Brazil, where he is scheduled to meet with newly elected President Dilma Rousseff.

A former Marxist guerrilla and prisoner of war, Rousseff is Brazil's first female president. She is considered a political pragmatist whose success is due in part to outgoing President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva.  Rousseff is his former chief of staff.

Obama's trip is said to be aimed at shoring up relations with countries in Latin America and creating alliances with the region's power players. Brazil is a major market for U.S. products.  Since 2002, U.S. goods exported to Brazil have tripled, from $12.4 billion in 2002 to $35.4 billion in 2010, according to the White House.

Though the visit is certain to focus on new trade opportunities with a country that boasts the seventh-largest economy in the world and an estimated $300 billion in reserves, it should also be used to help thaw chilly relations.

Neither country should allow differences of opinion over the past administration’s position on Iran to overshadow new ties.

One key ally in the region, however, is noticeably absent from Obama's agenda.

Obama is said to be skipping Colombia because the Andean nation will host the Summit of the Americas next year. (We editorialized about his South America agenda earlier this week.)

That explanation, however, doesn't tell the whole story.  Obama's decision to bypass Colombia is more likely tied to the proposed free-trade agreement that remains stalled in Congress.

The White House and Colombian officials have been engaged in high-level discussions in recent weeks over the plan.

Congress and the president should move quickly to approve it (along with the proposed free-trade agreement with Panama, which has also been stalled). The new Republican leaders in the House signaled that they were willing to pass the measure. And Colombia  has made significant efforts to address some of the human rights concerns  that some opponents had held up as a reason not to pass the pact.

RELATED:

Don't ignore Colombia

--Sandra Hernandez

Photo: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff speaks during a forum on citizens rights in Planalto Palace in Brasilia on March 15 Credit:  Ueslei Marcelino / Reuters 

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