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In South America, Biden Celebrates, Censures

Published on 12 March 2014

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by Sonya Weakley


Washington, D.C.

During a trip cut short to attend unexpected diplomatic meetings, Vice President Biden celebrated the second inauguration of Chilean President Michelle Bachelet on March 11 while taking the opportunity to publicly condemn ongoing violence in Venezuela.

Biden, who arrived in South America on March 9, returned to Washington after Bachelet’s ceremony to join President Obama in discussions regarding Ukraine’s escalating security crisis with visiting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Biden’s schedule had included a March 12 stop in the Dominican Republic.

Biden met with Bachelet on March 10. Among the planned topics were free-trade agreements, international human rights and development partnerships, educational exchange programs and increased opportunities for travel between the two countries. Chile is a participant in negotiations to launch the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed trade agreement involving 12 countries.

Chile is the world’s top copper exporter and has enjoyed a fast-growing economy, low unemployment and low inflation. Chile’s bilateral trade with the United States was $28 billion in 2013. “Chile’s economic [and] democratic tradition teaches us all that pragmatism, not ideology, is the secret to success,” Biden said.

Biden also met with Sebastián Piñera, Chile’s outgoing president, as well as President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, President Ollanta Humala of Peru and President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico. In all of the meetings, political violence in Venezuela was a primary topic of discussion.

In an interview published March 9 in a Chilean newspaper, Biden characterized the situation as “alarming.” The government of President Nicolás Maduro is “confronting peaceful protesters with force … limiting the freedoms of press and assembly … demonizing and arresting political opponents, and dramatically tightening restrictions on the media,” he said. The United States is calling for the region to assist in mediation between the government and protesters.

As Piñera’s predecessor as well as his successor, Bachelet is the nation’s first woman president and has enjoyed enormous popular support. In an interview with the Washington Post shortly before her second term, she said she wants to address social inequality by overhauling education and health care, funded by tax reforms.

“Chile has been able to consolidate democracy,” she said. “But we have a challenge we haven’t been able to solve yet, and that is to tackle inequality. We have been able to reduce poverty, to increase social mobility and to improve living conditions. But inequality is still there.”

Bachelet was sworn into office in the port city of Valparaiso, the seat of Chile's Congress. The constitution does not allow presidents to serve consecutive terms in office.

Biden’s wife, Jill, a college professor, traveled with him to South America to participate in the inauguration and pursue areas of interest.

In the Dominican Republic, Biden had been scheduled to meet with President Danilo Medina on topics including energy security, preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS, reducing the region’s vulnerability to climate change and strengthening government institutions. Biden also had planned to address concerns regarding a September 23, 2013, court ruling retroactively stripping citizenship from anyone born in the country to undocumented parents, dating back to 1929. The ruling affects as many as 200,000 people, mostly of Haitian descent, who would be left without citizenship in any country.



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Posted 2014-03-12 11:02:00