Obama in Latin America: Equal Partners or America's Backyard?

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LOS ANGELES -- President Obama’s visit to Latin America comes at a time when the world’s attention is focused on Libya and Japan. But according to an editorial in La Opinión, his visit to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador highlights the importance of a region that has been relegated to second place by the White House.

Editors argue that the United States must increase its trade with Latin America, which has fallen in the last decade. U.S exports to Latin America decreased from 60 percent in 2000 to 40 percent in 2009, while imports decreased from 49 percent to 31 percent, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA).

Editors write that the president’s stop in Brazil indicates strong support for what has become the region’s leading country; Chile was an ideal place for Obama to send a message to the continent, editors write, since it has a free trade agreement with the United States, a strong economy and a solid democracy; and his final stop in El Salvador acknowledged the pressures of drug trafficking violence, migration and poverty that have plagued El Salvador and its Central American neighbors, Guatemala and Honduras.

The outcome of the visit is hard to predict, editors write. What is important now, they argue, is concrete results.

"It remains to be seen whether the visit reinforces an image of maturity in a continental relationship based on respect among equals," editors write, "rather than a relationship in which Latin America is just America’s backyard."