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Costa Rica

U.S. issues trail Obama in Latin America

Energy, education among hot topics

  • U.S. President Barack Obama answers a question during a forum on Inclusive Economic Growth and Development at the Old Custom House in San Jose, Costa Rica, Saturday, May 4, 2013. Concluding his  three-day visit to Mexico and Costa Rica, Obama cheered Mexican economic advances and pressed for other Central American leaders to deal with poverty and security, while reaching out to a politically powerful Latino audience back home. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

    U.S. President Barack Obama answers a question during a forum on Inclusive Economic Growth and Development at the Old Custom House in San Jose, Costa Rica, Saturday, May 4, 2013. Concluding his three-day visit to Mexico and Costa Rica, Obama cheered Mexican economic advances and pressed for other Central American leaders to deal with poverty and security, while reaching out to a politically powerful Latino audience back home. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

  • U.S. President Barack Obama, left, and Costa Rica’s President Laura Chinchilla, right, talk at the conclusion of a forum on Inclusive Economic Growth and Development at the Old Custom House in San Jose, Costa Rica, Saturday, May 4, 2013. Obama, concluding a three-day visit to Mexico and Costa Rica, is cheering Mexican economic advances and pressing other Central American leaders to deal with poverty and security, while reaching out to a politically powerful Latino audience back home. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

    U.S. President Barack Obama, left, and Costa Rica’s President Laura Chinchilla, right, talk at the conclusion of a forum on Inclusive Economic Growth and Development at the Old Custom House in San Jose, Costa Rica, Saturday, May 4, 2013. Obama, concluding a three-day visit to Mexico and Costa Rica, is cheering Mexican economic advances and pressing other Central American leaders to deal with poverty and security, while reaching out to a politically powerful Latino audience back home. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

  • President Barack Obama, right, shakes hands with INCAE University President Arturo Condo at the end of an Inclusive Economic Growth and Development forum in San Jose, Costa Rica, Saturday, May 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

    President Barack Obama, right, shakes hands with INCAE University President Arturo Condo at the end of an Inclusive Economic Growth and Development forum in San Jose, Costa Rica, Saturday, May 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

  • U.S. President Barack Obama, INCAE University President Arturo Condo, right, Costa Rica’s President Laura Chinchilla, right, participate in a forum on Inclusive Economic Growth and Development at the Old Custom House in San Jose, Costa Rica, Saturday, May 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

    U.S. President Barack Obama, INCAE University President Arturo Condo, right, Costa Rica’s President Laura Chinchilla, right, participate in a forum on Inclusive Economic Growth and Development at the Old Custom House in San Jose, Costa Rica, Saturday, May 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

  • U.S. President Barack Obama answers a question during a forum on Inclusive Economic Growth and Development at the Old Custom House in San Jose, Costa Rica, Saturday, May 4, 2013. Concluding his  three-day visit to Mexico and Costa Rica, Obama cheered Mexican economic advances and pressed for other Central American leaders to deal with poverty and security, while reaching out to a politically powerful Latino audience back home. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

    U.S. President Barack Obama answers a question during a forum on Inclusive Economic Growth and Development at the Old Custom House in San Jose, Costa Rica, Saturday, May 4, 2013. Concluding his three-day visit to Mexico and Costa Rica, Obama cheered Mexican economic advances and pressed for other Central American leaders to deal with poverty and security, while reaching out to a politically powerful Latino audience back home. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

  • U.S. President Barack Obama answers a question during a forum on Inclusive Economic Growth and Development at the Old Custom House in San Jose, Costa Rica, Saturday, May 4, 2013. Concluding his  three-day visit to Mexico and Costa Rica, Obama cheered Mexican economic advances and pressed for other Central American leaders to deal with poverty and security, while reaching out to a politically powerful Latino audience back home. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
  • U.S. President Barack Obama, left, and Costa Rica’s President Laura Chinchilla, right, talk at the conclusion of a forum on Inclusive Economic Growth and Development at the Old Custom House in San Jose, Costa Rica, Saturday, May 4, 2013. Obama, concluding a three-day visit to Mexico and Costa Rica, is cheering Mexican economic advances and pressing other Central American leaders to deal with poverty and security, while reaching out to a politically powerful Latino audience back home. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
  • President Barack Obama, right, shakes hands with INCAE University President Arturo Condo at the end of an Inclusive Economic Growth and Development forum in San Jose, Costa Rica, Saturday, May 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
  • U.S. President Barack Obama, INCAE University President Arturo Condo, right, Costa Rica’s President Laura Chinchilla, right, participate in a forum on Inclusive Economic Growth and Development at the Old Custom House in San Jose, Costa Rica, Saturday, May 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
  • U.S. President Barack Obama answers a question during a forum on Inclusive Economic Growth and Development at the Old Custom House in San Jose, Costa Rica, Saturday, May 4, 2013. Concluding his  three-day visit to Mexico and Costa Rica, Obama cheered Mexican economic advances and pressed for other Central American leaders to deal with poverty and security, while reaching out to a politically powerful Latino audience back home. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Obama’s trip to Latin America had a decidedly domestic feel, with issues such as immigration, energy and education that are in the forefront of U.S. political debate also dominating his talks with regional leaders.

The shared priorities show how closely entwined the U.S. is with its southern neighbors. These ties stem not only from geography, but also from the growing number of Hispanics living in the United States – and their rapidly increasing political power.

“The United States recognizes our fates are tied up with your success,” Obama said yesterday during an economic forum in San Jose, the Costa Rican capital where he wrapped up his three-day trip.

“If you are doing well, we will do better. And if we are doing well, we think your situation improves,” he said.

Obama’s stops in Mexico and Costa Rica marked his first visit to Latin America since winning re-election last November. His second-term victory resulted in part from the overwhelming support he received from Hispanic voters.

The election results have led Republicans to reconsider their opposition to overhauling U.S. immigration laws, and a bipartisan bill is now being considered on Capitol Hill.

The immigration debate is under close watch in Latin America, and Obama was asked often about it.

He used the opportunity to address the concerns of Republican lawmakers, who argue that the United States must secure its 2,000-mile border with Mexico before offering a path to citizenship for many of the 11 million people already in the United States illegally.

Appealing to congressional concerns over spending, Obama said he is looking for ways for Mexico to pick up some of the cost of enforcing security at the border.

“When it comes to borders, they’re shared,” he said. “Are there ways in which we can share some of the costs of continual infrastructure upgrades?”

Obama was greeted warmly in Costa Rica, with crowds gathering along the roads in San Jose to watch his motorcade speed from the economic forum to the airport, where Air Force One waited to take him back to Washington.

Obama’s agenda in Costa Rica included meetings with President Laura Chinchilla and talks with several Central American leaders. The president opened his visit Thursday in Mexico, where he held talks with new President Enrique Pena Nieto.

Throughout his trip, Obama tried to play down the fight against drug trafficking and organized crime that has dominated the U.S. relationship with Latin America for years.

He aimed to recast the relationship as one centered on economic issues, arguing that boosting jobs and growth is a central part of resolving the region’s security issues.

“It’s very hard to create a strong economy when people are personally feeling insecure,” he told an audience of business and community leaders at yesterday’s economic forum.

During a question-and-answer session, Obama was pressed about clean energy and early childhood education, two issues he has been promoting at the start of his second term.

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