People who follow global drug policy say the meeting that President Obama is headed to in Cartagena, Colombia could be historic.
It's the sixth Summit of the Americas and it's a sensitive time for the president to discuss a new approach to the illegal drug trade. Eric Olson, senior associate at the Woodrow Wilson Center's Mexico Institute will join The Daily Circuit Friday to discuss the summit and how the president might handle the issue.
More from the Associated Press:
By JIM KUHNHENN, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) -- As high-level international conferences go, President Barack Obama's trip to the Summit of the Americas in Colombia is a nod to Woody Allen's maxim that 80 percent of success is just showing up. It's a principle that has value not only in Latin America, but also here at home.
Outside Central and South America, no population will be paying as close attention to Obama's three-day visit to the city of Cartagena as Hispanics in the United States. With more than 50 million U.S. Latinos -- 21 million of them eligible voters, Obama has an important audience that is especially vital in an election year.
Obama also is kicking off the trip with a stop Friday in Tampa Bay, Fla., drawing attention to the benefits of trade with Latin America in a crucial swing state in the general election. The brief detour underscores the administration's attempts to cast the trip on domestic terms and to improve the president's tenuous stance with the U.S. business community.
"Florida, I think, is both an economic and people-to-people hub in terms of connecting the United States and Latin America," White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said, previewing the president's trip.
Such outreach to the U.S.'s southern neighborhood is not unique to Obama. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush before him also "understood that the right Latin American policies and relations could match the right domestic relations toward Latinos and immigrants," said Nelson Cunningham, who served in the Clinton White House as a special adviser on Western Hemisphere affairs.
Still, some of the thorniest issues Obama could confront in Cartagena -- U.S. immigration policy and U.S. policy toward Cuba -- present a political conundrum for Obama at home even as Latin American leaders express frustration with lack of movement by his administration on either front.
"The U.S. position on these troublesome issues -- immigration, drug policy, and Cuba -- has set Washington against the consensus view of the hemisphere's other 34 governments," concluded the Inter-American Dialogue, a U.S.-based center for policy analysis, in a report prepared in advance of the summit.
What's more, Obama will arrive in Colombia with larger and more immediate foreign policy entanglements facing him, including North Korea's failed launch of a long-range rocket Thursday, a budding though fragile truce in Syria, and international talks in Turkey over Iran's nuclear program. Indeed, Obama had a similar experience last year, traveling to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador, a trip overshadowed by U.S. bombing of Libya as part of an international military campaign to remove Moammar Gadhafi.
That said, Obama is on his fourth trip to the region, with a fifth upcoming in June, when he is scheduled to attend a Group of 20 session in Mexico. What's more, the past two weeks in Washington featured a joint meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a separate meeting this week with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.
In that sense, Obama's role as host and as visitor to the region's leaders can pay dividends.
"As our Latino population continues to grow, there is going to be a higher premium put by those voters on efforts to make sure that relations with the U.S. and the rest of Latin America are strong." said Simon Rosenberg, president of NDN, a think tank that studies U.S. Latino voters and relations wry Hilda Solis, a sign that the issue will not be far from his mind.
Associated Press writer Frank Bajak in Cartagena, Colombia, contributed to this report.