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US Vice President Joe Biden said that the United States would no longer "dictate unilaterally" to Latin America, and that it had entered a new era in the historically troubled relationship. "The time of the United States dictating unilaterally, the time where we only talk and don't listen is over," Biden said in Santiago after holding discussions with a clutch of Latin American leaders at a conference at a Chilean beach resort.
Biden's five-day visit to meet leaders in the region, including a second stop in Costa Rica, aimed to pave the way for President Barack Obama, who is set to attend the Summit of the Americas next month in Trinidad and Tobago. "My visit here is just the beginning of a renewal of a partnership with the Americas. In the past, even when we engaged positively we tended to engage 'for' the (western) hemisphere. We're not engaging 'for,' this is 'with,'" Biden added.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet hailed the new US administration's "genuine wish to play a proactive and decisive role in the construction of a new world dialogue." Biden's trip came as decades-long US influence in the region is waning, while Latin American countries have grown stronger and expanded relations with others, including China, Russia and India.
The US vice president met with the heads of state of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Chile during a two-day Progressive Governance conference focused on the financial crisis in Vina del Mar. At the summit, Biden also reiterated that the Obama administration supported a change in policy toward age-old foe Cuba. But he added: "We think the Cuban people should determine their own fate and that they should be able to live in freedom and with some prospect of economic prosperity."
Recent changes to US laws loosened some restrictions on commerce with the ailing communist island and eased travel rules for Cubans living in the United States, but fell short of calls to lift an entire decades-old US embargo.
Biden is due to fly to Costa Rica Sunday, where he will meet with President Oscar Arias and other Central American leaders before returning to Washington on Monday. Despite new ties beyond the continent, Latin America is still the largest foreign oil supplier to the United States, its fastest-growing trading partner and biggest supplier of illegal drugs.