Obama focus on economy in Latam summit

By NATALIE BRUNELL, MEDILL NEWS SERVICE, Written for UPI  |  April 12, 2012 at 11:25 AM
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WASHINGTON, April 12 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama will focus on the U.S. economic growth that is possible through strong engagements with Latin America as well as the need to fight organized crime in the region when he attends a summit this weekend in Colombia, senior administration officials said.

On Friday, Obama is to join 34 heads of state in Cartagena, Colombia, for the three-day Summit of the Americas. It would be his fourth trip to Latin America since taking office.

In 2009 he attended the summit in Trinidad and Tobago and, since then, "has significantly bolstered the image of the United States in the region," said Ben Rhodes, an Obama administration deputy national security adviser.

Obama is expected to advocate for increased trade and investment in the region.

On the way to Colombia, the president is to stop in Tampa, Fla., to give a speech at the Port of Tampa on the importance of strengthening trade with Latin American countries. More than 40 percent of the port's exports go to Latin America. Florida also represents a pivotal state in the U.S. presidential election in November.

The summit is to address ways to ease travel and trade barriers among the countries, use of information technology, disaster response, citizen security efforts, especially related to the drug wars, and poverty and inequality, Dan Restrepo, senior director for Western Hemisphere issues at the National Security Council, said.

Under Obama, the United States has invested $30 billion for drug prevention efforts, Restrepo said.

During the summit the president will stress the shared responsibility of the Americas to fight organized crime in the region that is largely powered by the drug trade, Restrepo said.

Obama is to arrive in Cartagena Friday night when he'll join other regional leaders for a dinner hosted by the Colombians. Saturday he is scheduled to meet with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil to discuss economic cooperation.

Rousseff visited with Obama in the White House earlier this week.

For the first time, Obama will spend two nights in Cartagena, signaling the success of the partnership between the two countries, the advisers said.

Sunday, Obama is to have a multilateral meeting with Caribbean leaders to discuss "our security cooperation, our close people-to-people ties and our efforts to promote economic growth in the Caribbean region," Rhodes said.

He is to meet again with Santos and highlight the relationship the United States has with Colombia in advancing security and economic issues, Rhodes said. Together they are to visit San Pedro Claver Church to speak with Colombian citizens about strengthening ties between Americans and Colombians.

Obama is to return to Washington late Sunday.

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