Officials say new trade agreements Obama signed last year with Colombia and Panama will further boost U.S. economic ties with the region. Implementation of the Colombian accord is contingent on Colombia's government meeting certain labor rights conditions. The U.S. business community and many Colombian officials are hoping Obama will use his trip to announce that implementation of the trade deal can proceed.
Republicans say Obama allowed the trade agreements to languish during his first two years in office because of pressure from unions, which are generally skeptical of free trade. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Friday that the delay in passing the trade deals "weakened our relationship with Latin America to the detriment of the national economy and Florida's economy."
The U.S. has continuously sought to block Cuba from the Summit of the Americas, saying the communist-run island does not abide by the meeting's democratic standards. But some Latin American leaders have grown increasingly impatient with the tensions between Washington and Havana and have made a fresh push for Cuba to be included in future meetings.
Obama was likely to be at odds with some regional partners on the issue of drug legalization. Some Latin American leaders increasingly see decriminalization as a possible path for containing the region's violent drug cartels.
The White House says that while Obama does not support decriminalization, he does think the debate is worth having, if only to highlight the problems that would arise from legalizing drugs.
Kuhnhenn reported from Tampa, Pace reported from Cartagena, Colombia. AP Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta in Washington contributed to this report.
Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC.
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