Obama: Brazil model for budding Mideast democracies

10:04 PM, Mar 20, 2011   |    comments
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President Obama told residents of Rio de Janeiro Sunday that pro-freedom movements in Libya and throughout the Middle East can take inspiration from the example of a free and vibrant Brazil.

Brazil "shows that a dictatorship can become a thriving democracy," Obama said in a speech that focused on the U.S. relationship to his host country's growing economic power.

"Let us stand together," Obama told a boisterous Brazilian crowd. "Not as senior and junior partners, but as equal partners."

Obama cited a number of areas in which the U.S. and Brazil can work together: student exchanges, cooperation between scientists and researchers, support for clean-energy programs and the fight against drug traffickers.

Brazil was ruled by a military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985, a regime that was eased from power not by a sharp, violent revolution, but through a long, massive popular movement of peaceful protest and strikes led in large part by labor unions and dissident political groups. The nation's first female leader, President Dilma Rousseff, who took power in January, was a key member of a Marxist militant group that battled against the dictatorship.

Obama's speech came a day after he ordered military action in Libya as part of a coalition effort to protect citizens there from attacks by Moammar Gadhafi's army. Brazil, a temporary member of the United Nations Security Council, abstained from support of the resolution authorizing the attack.

Citing another world crisis, Obama urged Brazil to help the people of Japan recover from its recent earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis.

The U.S. president told his Brazilian audience that "the ties that bind our nations to Japan are strong."

Obama - who earlier Sunday visited a Rio slum, where he played soccer with local children - made a direct pitch to common bonds. He recalled how his mother's favorite movie was Black Orpheus, filmed in the shantytowns of Rio during Carnival. He cited the similar histories of the United States and Brazil, two countries that emerged from colonial pasts, grew through vast immigration and "eventually cleansed the stain of slavery from our land."

Echoing themes he outlined Saturday in meetings with Brazilian business leaders, Obama also offered U.S. help on infrastructure needed to bolster the host country's two major upcoming projects: the 2014 World Cup, to be conducted across the country, and the 2016 Summer Olympics, to be centered in Rio.

"You may be aware this city was not my first choice for the Summer Olympics," said Obama, who lobbied for the Games to be held in his hometown of Chicago. He told Rio residents that he didn't take the rejection personally.

"I intend to come back in 2016 to watch what happens," Obama said.

Contributing: The Associated Press

By David Jackson, USA TODAY

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