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Obama news conference: 'Take a lesson' from Latin America

June 23, 2009 | 10:40 am


Although Latin American has not been front and center for the administration in recent days, Obama is scheduled to meet later today with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. The agenda is vague: “improving relations.”

At his Summit of the Americas meeting two months ago, a reporter recalled, the president called on Latin American countries “to help you with deeds, not words.” And so, she wondered, had any progress been made along those lines.

Obama did not directly answer the query. He said the United States could probably take a lesson from some of our neighbors to the south: “If you look at how Chile has handled its recession. ... They had the resources to deal with the downturn. … It’s a good lesson for the U.S. --  when we had surpluses, they got dissipated.”

Even though the U.S. and Chile have foreign-policy differences, Obama said, there is a high level of cooperation between the two countries on issues such as trade and cancer research.

“It’s a respectful relationship,” he said.

Obama added that Brazil, like Chile, “is leading by example.” Brazil’s president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva offers an example of someone who — on paper -- may seem difficult to work with, he said.

“President Lula came up through the trade union movement union, he was perceived as a strong leftist. Turns out, he was a very practical person who maintains relationships across the political spectrum in Latin America and has instituted all sorts of market reforms that have made Brazil prosperous.

"That points the way for other countries where the Democratic tradition is not as embedded as we would like it to be: Respect for property rights, rule of law, all those things can lead to greater prosperity.”

The word “Venezuela” never crossed the president’s lips.

-- Robin Abcarian

Photo: Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. Credit: Tim Sloan / AFP/Getty Images

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