SANTIAGO, Chile — Striking a humble chord, President Barack Obama said Monday that the United States has sometimes taken Latin America "for granted," but he promised a new relationship that did not consign the region to the status of "junior partner."
In a speech, Obama laid out a vision for the Latin American-U.S. relationship that was rooted in a shared belief in democracy, stronger cultural ties and expanded trade.
"I believe that in the Americas today, there are no senior partners and there are no junior partners, there are only equal partners. Of course, equal partnerships, in turn, demand a sense of shared responsibility," said Obama, speaking in the La Moneda Cultural Center, a modern art museum near the presidential palace.
Obama gave the address hours after touching down in Santiago at the midpoint of a five-day Latin America tour that began with a stop in Brazil and ends Wednesday in El Salvador.
The trip — Obama's first to South America — has unfolded in the shadow of the military conflict in Libya. Still, White House aides said the speech Monday was important in recasting America's relationship with its southern neighbors.
Fifty years ago, John F. Kennedy launched his "Alliance for Progress," pumping billions of dollars into the Latin American economy. Today, struggling with huge deficits at home, an American president is no longer in position to lavish aid on the region and so must rethink the way north and south cooperate in the new era, aides said.
Obama sought to dispel stereotypes of the United States as an overbearing neighbor dictating terms to South America. He said the American economy is deeply entwined with that of Latin America. Each needs the other to succeed, he said.
"Latin America is only going to become more important to the United States, especially to our economy," the president said after a meeting and joint news conference with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera.
"Trade between the United States and Latin America has surged. We buy more of your goods and products than any other country, and we invest more in this region than any other country. … In other words, when Latin America is more prosperous, the United States is more prosperous."
"So this is the Latin America that I see today — a region on the move, proud of its progress, and ready to assume a greater role in world affairs," he said.