WHITE HOUSE NOTEBOOK: Chilean praises Mrs. Obama

AP News
Posted: Mar 21, 2011 6:43 PM
WHITE HOUSE NOTEBOOK: Chilean praises Mrs. Obama

Chile's president Sebastian Pinera engaged in some very personal diplomacy with President Barack Obama on Monday.

"I think the first lady of the U.S. is very good-looking," Pinera declared during a joint news conference with Obama in Santiago midway through Obama's Latin American tour.

According to Pinera, the sentiment was mutual. "President Obama has said the same about the first lady of Chile."

Obama smiled but didn't elaborate on either first ladies' appearance _ at least not in public.


The similarities between Pinera and Obama go beyond the attractiveness of their wives, according to the Chilean leader.

Closing out their news conference at La Moneda Palace, Pinera reeled off a list of things the two leaders have in common: Both are left-handed; both studied at Harvard; both are "sportsmen," as Pinera put it through a translator.

The personal coincidences couldn't hurt the presidents' mutual goal of strengthening relations between their two countries.

"Modestly, if I could suggest to President Obama, we hope to have a partnership," said Pinera.


The famed Chilean miners who survived 69 days underground last year were nowhere to be seen during Obama's quick visit to Chile, but the president gave them a shout-out in a speech in Santiago.

"Their resolve and faith inspired the world _ 'Los Treinta y Tres'" _ the president said. That's Spanish for the 33 _ the number of miners trapped in the accident.

Obama said the dramatic rescue scenes also showed people and governments of Latin America coming together, with help from around the world.

"As the miners were lifted to safety, for those joyous reunions, it was a truly global movement, watched and celebrated by more than a billion people," he said. "If ever we needed a reminder of the humanity and the hopes that we share, that moment in the desert was such."


In a park 10 blocks from the presidential palace, hundreds of leftists demonstrated against Obama. Organizer Juan Cuevas said Obama as president has increased the U.S. military budget, "and doesn't hesitate in attacking and invading whatever country that challenges his interests."

Many protesters recalled how the U.S. worked covertly to topple the socialist government of Salvador Allende, who was elected in 1970 and died in Chile's 1973 military coup.

"The United States wants to keep dominating the world," said Manuel Hernandez, a university student.

Many politicians and human rights activists joined an open letter Monday calling on Obama to apologize for U.S. interventions in the 1970s, and to help resolving the human rights violations that followed as Chile's military, closely monitored by U.S. agents, cracked down on dissent.

Socialist Deputy Alfonso De Urresti said the U.S. must declassify more of its documents that name the Chilean military and police figures responsible.


The Obamas' 9-year-old daughter Sasha virtually took over Santiago's interactive children's museum, which was closed to the public during a brief tour that Chile's first lady, Cecilia Morel, gave to Michelle Obama and her daughters. Malia, 12, also tried out the games, which include programmable robots, balloons that show how atmospheric pressure works, and alien-like substances that appear to shift between solid and liquid form.

Morel welcomed them by singing a verse from a well-known Chilean song, which translates as: "And so you will see how we in Chile love the friends who come as foreigners."


Associated Press writers Eduardo Gallardo and Eva Vergara in Santiago, Chile, contributed to this report.