Commentary: Jobs need to be Obama's focus in South America

President Obama’s first extended tour through Latin America comes not a moment too soon. There’s nothing like a personal visit by the president to showcase U.S.-Latin American relations and disarm critics who feel the president has neglected the region. To make this visit count, the president must speak to the region’s concerns and anxieties.

Brazil, his first stop, has been labeled “the country of the future” for so long that many came to believe its day would never come. Today, the future is here. Brazil, thanks to its size and economic success, is rightly recognized as a major emerging democracy with a bigger role to play in world affairs.

For Brazilians, this means a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. Brazil argues that if the United Nations is to remain effective, its structure must reflect present world realities. If Mr. Obama cannot endorse this bid now, he should, at minimum, make it clear that he understands this incontestable logic and Brazil’s hopes. The United States would win plaudits around the region by supporting a permanent seat on the Security Council for a major Latin American country like Brazil.

Brazil’s new president, Dilma Rousseff, seems prepared to reset the clock on U.S.-Brazil relations, which should help make this visit a success. Significant differences remains on issues like Iran, where Mr. Obama must stand firm. The quixotic policy of cozying up to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (or dictators like Cuba’s Raúl Castro) undermines Brazil’s effort to burnish its diplomatic credentials.

There are two critical areas that Mr. Obama must deal with if this visit is to be a success: trade and immigration — paramount issues for South Florida. His hands are tied as long as Congress insists on protective quotas and high tariffs for agricultural products and Brazilian ethanol. But there’s no reason to wait any longer for approval of the free trade agreements with Panama and — especially — Colombia, our Andean ally.

While Latin America reaches out for trade with Asia and the European Union, Washington dawdles. The region is waiting to see if the United States knows who its friends are and rewards them.

To read the complete editorial, visit