By Patricia Maresch, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – In his first trip to South America since taking office, American president Obama met with his Brazilian counterpart Dilma Rousseff today. The Brazil visit comes against the backdrop of urgent issues elsewhere in the world, including the nuclear disaster in Japan and the possibility of U.S. military action against Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi.
After recent strains between Brazil and the United States – in part because of Rousseff’s predecessor Lula’s stand on Iran’s nuclear program – both countries seem determined to patch up the relationship.
Rousseff welcomed Obama and First Lady Michelle at the presidential Palácio do Planalto in Brasília. After the official ceremonial parts of the visit, the two presidents had a bilateral meeting to get acquainted.
For the U.S., the trip is fundamentally about the recovery of trade with Brazil, the world’s eighth largest economy. For more than a hundred years the United States has been Brazil’s most important trading partner, but recently China has taken over that position in regard to Brazilian exports.
For Rousseff the main goal of Obama’s visit is to gain American support for Brazil’s permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. Support from the U.S. government is fundamental for Brazil, especially after the stand off on Iran, where Brazil refused to vote for more UN-sanctions.
Rousseff will not be following Lula’s footsteps in this aspect, as her personal story of torture and imprisonment during Brazil’s dictatorship has given her a stronger stance on human rights. While America has welcomed that shift, they appear to be leaning more towards supporting India for the permanent seat.
The two presidents signed ten agreements of cooperation in the areas of bio-energy, aviation, labor and big sports events. Both leaders believe in expanding opportunities for cooperation, especially in the areas of sustainable energy, technology and trade. “The United States wants to be a client of clean Brazilian energy,” Obama said in statements to the press after their meeting.
Rousseff thanked Obama for his visit and stressed the symbolic meaning of this encounter between a female president and a Afro-descending president. “It shows that societies can overcome barriers,” said Rousseff.
Obama planned to address the people of Rio de Janeiro at the Cinelândia square in the center of the city on Sunday, but the public appearance was canceled early Friday. The large crowds expected exceeded the original plans, and security efforts became unmanageable, a source from the U.S. military in Rio speculated.
On Friday morning, the American embassy announced, “Due to a number of concerns about staging the event outdoors, the most practical course is to hold the President’s speech inside,” a statement from the American Embassy read.
Obama will now speak on Sunday afternoon at the Theatro Municipal for a selected group of 2,200 invites. He is still expected to visit Christ the Redeemer in the morning, then to Cidade de Deus (City of God) favela Sunday morning. After Brazil, Obama travels to Chile. His third and final stop is in El Salvador.