Clinton in Latin America

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began a six nation tour of Latin America today. The World's Jeb Sharp explores the issues at stake.

MARCO WERMAN: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton plans to make a brief stop in Chile tomorrow. She's currently on a tour of Latin America. Her trip is aimed at showing Latin American countries that Washington takes their concerns seriously, even if many of them don't see it that way. The World's Jeb Sharp reports.

JEB SHARP: Secretary of State Clinton's trip is widely seen as an attempt to bolster the image of the U.S. in a region that had expected more from President Obama in his first year in office. Michael Shifter is Vice President of the Inter-American Dialogue, a think tank in Washington.

MICHAEL SHIFTER: I think the administration wants to re-engage with Latin America. 2009 was not a good year. There was not a lot of progress made on the agenda. And I think there's a recognition that there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed.

SHARP: Hence, Secretary Clinton's trip to the region. She spent today in Uruguay attending the inauguration of President Jose Mujica, a former leftist guerilla. Analysts say the visit is intended to demonstrate Washington's willingness to deal with leftist governments that are seen as moderate and pragmatic. Tomorrow Clinton will stop briefly in Santiago to voice U.S. support for Chile after the earthquake there. Shifter says the most crucial part of the trip, though, will probably be Brazil.

SHIFTER: There were great expectations when President Obama came in of a deepening relationship with Brazil. He had very high praise for Brazilian President Lula. I still think there is still high regard for Lula and the importance of Brazil as a major regional power, major global player, but that relationship also got bogged down and there were a number of irritants that came up.

SHARP: Irritants like the military coup in Honduras last year that ousted a democratically elected president. Shifter says the coup touched a nerve in Brazil which spent 21 years under a military dictatorship. As a result, Shifter says, Brazilians wanted the United States to take a stronger stand against what happened in Honduras.

SHIFTER: There was a sense of disappointment in that because this was a coup, there wasn't a more energetic response from Washington. There seemed to be what they perceived as ambivalent, a little bit too pragmatic, a little bit too accommodating and soft to the government that the Brazilians saw as illegitimate.

SHARP: But Washington would rather talk to Brazil about another matter; Iran. Brazil has a relatively friendly relationship with Iran. Brazil also sits on the U.N. Security Council, so the Obama administration is eager to engage it on what to do next about Iran's nuclear program. Peter DeShazo directs the Americas program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

PETER DESHAZO: This is a point that the administration has signaled would be very important during the visit. The Secretary will raise U.S. concerns about Iran's nuclear program and seek support for further U.N. sanctions against Iran. But this is something that Brazil opposes.

SHARP: For their part, Latin American countries are simply looking for a much more visible change in U.S. policy. President Obama promised as much when he spoke at the Summit of Americas last April. Jennifer McCoy directs the Americas program at the Carter Center in Atlanta. She says Latin America wants to see Mr. Obama deliver on several fronts.

JENNIFER MCCOY: First and foremost on the list I think would be Cuba. A much greater and more dramatic opening toward Cuba, lifting more travel restrictions, etc., for Americans. Second, the promised reform on immigration which President Obama has alluded to but has not yet been able to address given his other domestic priorities. Third, climate change is important for Latin America.

SHARP: The hope that the United States will pay more attention to Latin American concerns comes at a time when Latin America is showing increasing independence. Last week 32 countries agreed to form the community of Latin American and Caribbean nations. That organization won't include the United States and Canada in an effort to offset what Latin America has long seen as dominance from the north. For The World, I'm Jeb Sharp.