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McCain visits a skeptical Latin America

Presidential hopeful John McCain visited Colombia on Tuesday and wraps up his three-day trip Thursday in Mexico.

Latin trip: President Álvaro Uribe (r.) met with Sen. John McCain Tuesday in Cartagena, Colombia.

Miguel Angel Solano/Ap

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On a three-day visit to Colombia and Mexico, Republican presidential hopeful John McCain is seeking to show that he cares about the same issues as Latin Americans: security, immigration, and trade.

But the tour will likely do little to woo people in the region, analysts say. Even though Mr. McCain enjoys a better image than President Bush in Latin America, Democratic contestant Barack Obama has an edge simply because he is the fresher figure, says Michael Shifter, the vice president for policy at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington.

"[Senator] Obama is seen as someone who could understand a changing Latin America… one that rejects the 'you are on one side or the other' politics," says Mr. Shifter. Also, the fact that McCain has chosen to visit the region's most conservative leaders – Colombian President Álvaro Uribe and Mexican President Felipe Calderón – could underscore a more traditional mind set. "It reinforces the sense that he will stand with his friends," says Shifter. "But even the people in those countries say [US politicians] can't afford to look at the region that way."

McCain's visit to Colombia, where he met with Mr. Uribe on Tuesday, is an attempt to mark a difference with Obama on both trade issues and counterterrorism, says political commentator Andrés Peñate. A Colombian free trade deal negotiated between the Bush and Uribe governments is bogged down in the US Congress amid concerns from many Democrats about human rights, including a long history of violence against trade unionists in Colombia.

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