Obama Hails Democracy, Social Progress in Brazil

 March 20, 2011
Obama Hails Democracy, Social Progress in Brazil
Photo: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
U.S. President Barack Obama plays soccer with local children during his tour of the Ciudad de Deus Favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, March 20, 2011.

Nearing the end of his two day stay in Brazil, President Barack Obama has spoken about values he says connect the people of the hemisphere's two largest democracies, and people striving for change around the world.

After spending the first day of his visit focused on expanding U.S. - Brazil economic and trade ties, the president and his family spent time seeing some key sights in Rio de Janeiro.

But one of those stops, a visit to the large "favela" or slum known as City of God, also buttressed a key message - that inclusion of people from all levels of society and all races strengthens democracy and furthers development and economic progress.

Mr. Obama, his wife Michelle, and his daughters watched drum and martial arts performances, kicked soccer balls with neighborhood children, and posed for photographs.

The visit there carried over to Mr. Obama's address at Rio's Municipal Theatre in which he said hope is returning"to places where fear once prevail" and hailed Brazil's success in lifting millions from poverty through new security and social programs.

Brazil he said has gone from dictatorship to a thriving democracy and in so doing has inspired the world.

"For so long, Brazil was a nation brimming with potential but held back by politics, both at home and abroad. For so long, you were called a country of the future, told to wait for a better day that was always just around the corner. Meus amigos, that day has finally come. And this is a country of the future no more. The people of Brazil should know that the future has arrived and it is time to seize it," he said.

Mr. Obama said the U.S. and Brazil had similar histories, as former colonies that welcomed waves of immigrants, eventually cleansing"the stain of slavery," with similar struggles for equality for people of all races and backgrounds.

Referring to what he called the unfolding struggle by people for rights in the Middle East and North Africa, the president said that despite differences of opinion, Americans and Brazilians also share common aspirations.

"We all seek to be free. We all seek to be heard. We all yearn to live without fear or discrimination. We all yearn to choose how we are governed and we all want to shape our own destiny. These are not American ideals, or Brazilian ideals, or Western ideals.? These are universal rights, and we must support them everywhere," he said.

Mr. Obama also joked about his home town of Chicago losing out to Rio de Janeiro in the competition to host the 2016 Olympic Games, and received loud applause when he said he intends to return to see the games.

The president receiving continuous updates on allied military operations in Libya to enforce a no-fly zone to protect civilians from attacks by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi.

He had a secure conference call with his National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, and General Carter Ham, who heads the U.S. Africa Command.

White House officials say Libya came up in "broad terms" during discussions President Obama had on Saturday with Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, focusing on shared concerns for the Libyan people.

Before departing Brazil, the president, his wife Michelle, and their daughters will visit the famous Christ the Redeemer statue, an icon of Rio and for Brazil, atop Corcovado Mountain towering above the city.

Next stop is Chile, where Mr. Obama will meet with President Sebastian Pinera.

National Security Council Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs Daniel Restrepo says like Brazil, Chile is another example of successful democratic transition and economic progress.

"A country that has also had a very successful democratic transition over the course of the last 20 years, that has used its global connectivity, economic connectivity and commercial connectivity to lift people out of poverty and to consolidate its democratic experience," he said.

The two presidents will also discuss cooperation on disaster response, something Chile has developed expertise in because of frequent earthquakes, and last year's tsunamis, and Chile's role in judicial and police training in Latin America.