After spending fewer than 24 hours in Chile, President Barack Obama is now headed to El Salvador for the final stop on a goodwill tour of Latin America that has been largely overshadowed by events in Libya. While in the Chilean capital, Obama met with president Sebastian Pinera and delivered a speech praising Chile’s rise from the era of the Pinochet dictatorship to its present democracy.
"The lessons of Latin America can be a guide for people around the world who are beginning their own journeys toward democracy," Obama said at the Palacio de La Moneda Cultural Center in Santiago. "With decades of experience, there's so much Latin America now can share: how to build political parties and organize free elections, how to ensure peaceful transfers of power and how to navigate the winding paths of reform and reconciliation."
The message had particular significance in Chile,
where the brutal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet repeatedly imprisoned and killed political dissidents between 1974 and 1990. At a news conference before his formal speech Obama stopped short of apologizing for U.S. support of Pinochet but said America would help with investigations of a period when many opponents of the regime vanished without a trace.
"Any requests that are made by Chile to obtain more information about the past is something that we will certainly consider and we would like to cooperate," Obama said.
The Santiago speech was the second time during Obama’s trip that he invoked Latin America’s democratic progress and contrasted it with the currently conflicted regimes of the middle east. In his speech in Rio De Janeiro Sunday, Obama called Brazil’s democracy an “example” to Arab world as well.
Although the trip’s stated purpose was strengthening economic ties between Latin America and the United States, that message has been all but drowned out by the escalating conflict in Libya. While in Santiago, Obama justified U.S. and European aerial bombardment of targets in country by saying Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi failed to heed United Nations’ directives and “was continuing to act aggressively toward civilians."