By Amy Skalmusky, Senior Contribution Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – U.S. President Barack Obama will begin his Latin America visit in Brasília on Saturday, March 19th, where he will meet with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to discuss business and building a relationship for the future. During the visit, Obama’s first to South America, he and his wife, Michelle, and their two daughters will spend Sunday, March 20th, in Rio de Janeiro.
During the stop in Rio, Obama will be speaking to the the Brazilian people in Cinelândia Square in the afternoon. The event will be free of charge, open to the public and translation will be provided. The gates will open at 11:30AM, but more specific information is pending.
He is also expected to visit the Christ the Redeemer Statue at Corcovado, as well Cidade de Deus (City of God), one of the favelas recently pacified by the UPP program.
A U.S. Consulate contact noted however, that the only White House confirmed information for Rio is the Cinelândia speech, so other stops are still only speculation.
Few were surprised that Brazil was chosen to be Obama’s first stop on the Latin America trip. With the country expected to be the world’s fifth largest economy by 2016, Obama hopes to improve trade relations, and take advantage of President Rousseff’s greater willingness to engage the United States.
Although Brazil and the United States share a number of common goals and enjoy a cordial relationship, the two countries have had periodic disputes on trade and political matters.
“This will be the first meeting between President Obama and President Dilma,” said U.S. Ambassador Thomas Shannon in an Istoe É magazine interview. “This will be a key opportunity to define the tone and the path of the bilateral relationship.”
The countries have clashed over trade issues such as U.S. ethanol and farm subsidies in recent years. In 2009, Brazil had a nearly US$10 billion trade deficit with the U.S., fueled by an internal demand for imports. The deficit was one of the talking points between Rousseff and U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, during his visit to Brazil last month.
International issues have, more recently been a source of tensions between the two countries. The U.S. was at odds with former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s diplomatic support of Iran, its backing of the ousted Honduran president, Manuel Zelaya, as well as its recognition of the state of Palestine based on the borders that existed prior to the Middle Eastern 1967 Six-Day War.
Rousseff, however, appears to be taking a more diplomatic approach to relations with the U.S. than her predecessor. Though Rousseff and Obama have met before when she was Minister of the Civil House, they are now on more level footing.
Shannon explained “President Obama’s decision to visit Brazil shows his respect for President Dilma Rousseff and for Brazil. This historic meeting between Brazil’s first female President and the first U.S. African-American President will highlight the momentum of our democracies and the growing openness of our societies.”
The agenda for the discussions will cover a range of topics. Some of the issues that will likely be on the table are China’s recent overtake of the U.S. as Brazil’s top trading partner, the multi-billion dollar Brazilian Air Force contract for which Boeing is competing.