Lula Urges Obama to Change US View of Latin America
CORUMBA, Brazil - Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva urged U.S. President-elect Barack Obama on Thursday to drop outdated U.S. views of Latin America as a region of communists, terrorists and drug traffickers.
Lula said Washington needs to see Latin American countries as democratic partners rather than problems, and offer better trade ties with the region.
"Where they used to see communism, terrorism, they have to see the strength of democracy that exists in this region," Lula told reporters when asked about his expectations of Obama, who takes office next week.
While President George W. Bush sought to boost trade with Latin America, he also clashed with socialists like Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and spent billions of dollars in the fight against drug traffickers and Marxist rebels in Colombia.
His policies are generally popular in Colombia but Bush scores poorly in opinion polls across most of Latin America.
Lula, a center-leftist, criticized Washington for recently suspending trade benefits for Bolivia on the grounds that it was not cooperating in the fight against cocaine smuggling.
Bolivia, which is South America's poorest nation, says it will lose $21 million a year in textile exports to the United States as a result of the measure.
"Why does the United States veto the purchase of Bolivian textiles? There's nothing better to combat drug traffickers than economic development, job creation and income distribution," Lula said after meeting with Bolivian President Evo Morales on the border between the two countries.
Morales, one of several leftist leaders in Latin America who often clash with Washington, said Bolivia has done more to fight drugs than other countries in the region.
Lula said the United States should show as much concern about drug use at home as it does about trafficking in producer nations.
He said Obama should treat Latin American leaders as equals legitimately elected by their people. "If he takes that view, relations with Latin America will be much more harmonious."
(Reporting by Raymond Colitt; Editing by Kieran Murray)