In March 2011, President Barack Obama will become the first American Commander-in-Chief to visit Chile since the visit of George Bush in 1990, more than 20 years ago.
President Obama announced his visit in his annual State of the Union Address, delivered on the evening of Tuesday, Jan. 25 in Washington D.C. The visit to Chile will be part of a tour through Latin America including Brazil and El Salvador.
The Minister of Exterior Relations, Alfredo Moreno, said of the visit, “it is an enormously significant gesture for Chile that after so much time a North American president will visit.”
President Obama described his circuit through Latin America as an opportunity “to forge new alliances across the Americas.”
The nations selected for the trip represent the varied interests of the United States in the region. Brazil, as Latin America’s largest economy, is a key destination for investment from abroad and a major player in the continued globalization of the region, while El Salvador stands as one of the US’s most prominent ally amidst the political instability that persists in much of Central America.
In addition to being the most politically, socially and economically stable country in Latin America, Chile has demonstrated an astonishing capacity for facing adversity throughout its momentous Bicentennial year.
The election of President Sebastián Piñera, whose administration took charge in March 2010, demonstrated the robustness of Chile’s democracy only twenty years after the fall of a military dictatorship, while the country’s recovery from February’s devastating earthquake spoke of the strength and solidarity of the Chilean people.
Then, just over three months ago, the world watched the incredible rescue of the 33 Chilean miners, a global endeavor that showed the power of international cooperation and innovation to achieve the seemingly impossible.
Near the conclusion of the 60-minute speech, Obama invoked the example of the Chilean miners, and the role the United States played in their successful rescue, to bring the speech to its rousing conclusion.
Speaking of Brandon Fisher, the businessman whose company spearheaded the successful Plan B rescue method, President Obama said, “he saw the news that halfway around the world, 33 men were trapped in a Chilean mine […] Brandon thought his company could help.”
This story of the mine served as the segue into the final moments of the speech in which President Obama rallied those listening with the repeated phrase “we do big things”—the words that an employee of Mr. Fisher’s business used to describe the successful mine rescue.
With its handling of the near-disaster at the San José mine, Chile made an indelible mark on the global psyche. President Obama’s visit affirms Chile’s strong entrance upon the international political stage as an exemplar of solidarity and stability, of innovation and collaboration even while facing apparently insurmountable challenges.
Further, the visit confirms that the cooperation between North and South America that made the rescue possible was no isolated incident, but rather the beginning of a long, mutually beneficial relationship that will shape the future of the region.
This post is also available in Spanish