CARTAGENA, Colombia — Putting an election year spin on his international agenda, President Barack Obama on Friday cast Latin America's rapid rise as a business opportunity for the U.S. economy. On his way to a regional summit in Colombia, he told voters in Florida, "While I'm in Colombia talking with other leaders, I'm going to be thinking about you."
Obama's stop in Florida, a crucial state in the election, underscored White House efforts to keep the president's three-day trip to the Summit of the Americas focused squarely on the economy, the top issue for voters in a general election now fully under way.
But if some Latin American leaders get their way, Obama will be forced to engage on issues that are less politically palatable in the U.S.; namely, Washington's strained relationship with Cuba and the prospect of legalizing drugs.
The president steered clear of those matters as he kicked off his trip at the Port of Tampa, where about 40 percent of exports go to Latin America. Obama said economic growth in Central and South America has created a booming middle class with money to spend.
"We want them spending money on American-made goods so that American businesses can put more Americans back to work," said Obama, his shirt sleeves rolled up, surrounded by cranes and shipping containers.
Obama's re-election prospects are largely tied to the nation's unemployment rate, which has dipped to 8.2 percent.