March 17th, 2011
02:45 PM ET
WASHINGTON (CNN) – Amid unrest in the Middle East and the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, President Obama is staying the course by pressing forward on his five-day trip to Latin America.
The First Family will depart Friday night for stops in Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador, where the president will meet with the leaders of each country to discuss trade and the global economy. It will be his first visit to the three countries and a chance to talk about hemispheric challenges.
"This trip gives us an opportunity to highlight the work that has been done and will continue to be done with a very important set of global-regional partners and leaders," said Daniel Restrepo, a White House policy advisor for Western Hemisphere affairs. "At each stop there are a series of concrete steps and agreements that will be reached on the types of issues that we pursue in the Americas."
Though the United States and Brazil are the two largest democracies and economies in the Western Hemisphere, this trip is unlikely to produce any new trade initiatives.
"I think you could probably describe this for President Obama as a discovery visit. It’s a get-to-know-you trip – like apparently on initiatives, not a terribly clear strategy in visiting these countries, but probably heavily – but probably heavy on listening." said Stephen Johnson of the bipartisan research group Center for Strategic and International Studies.
In Brazil, President Obama will meet with President Dilma Rousseff, who is just beginning her first term. The two leaders will discuss Brazil's increasing role on the global stage, something that is welcome news according to Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes.
"As a core component of the kind of relationship we’re building with Brazil, again, we believe that it’s a relationship guided by shared interests, a rapidly emerging power on the global stage, and we believe we can have a particularly close relationship with Brazil because of the shared values that we have," Rhodes said.
While in Chile, President Obama and Chilean President Sebastián Pinera will hold a meeting to talk about improving trade relations with Latin America. In a briefing with White House reporters, administration officials also said energy issues will be a big part of their discussions.
On the last stop in El Salvador, discussions with President Mauricio Funes will likely center on the country's economic growth but will also include immigration, poverty, and issues with international violence.
While the White House hopes for progress on these issues, they agree it's more about deepening relationships with Latin America.
"If you look at any metric in the region, President Obama is a hugely popular leader," Rhodes added. "And that's important both because it makes it easier for countries to cooperate with us and to be our partner on issues that we care about."
First Lady Michelle Obama has her own schedule of events such as a cultural performance by young disadvantaged Brazilians, an education speech in Chile, and a visit with underprivileged El Salvadorans. The Obama daughters, Malia and Sasha, are expected to travel with their parents as part of their spring break vacation.