Obama in Chile hails Latin America progress
President Barack Obama has called for a new relationship between the US and Latin America based on equal partnership.
Speaking in Chile, he said Latin America was fundamental to the prosperity and security of the US.
Mr Obama praised the region for its dynamism, saying it was ready to assume a greater role in world affairs.
He added that Latin America's political experience could be a guide for other peoples seeking democracy.
Mr Obama is in Chile on the second leg of a tour of Latin America that has been overshadowed by US-led military action against Libya.
"The world must now recognise Latin America for the dynamic and growing region that it truly is," he said.
He added that the transition from authoritarian rule to democracy in the region - and in Chile in particular - could be a model for other parts of the world.
"At a time when people around the world are reaching for their freedoms, Chile shows that, yes, it is possible to transition from dictatorship to democracy, and to do so peacefully," Mr Obama said.'All Americans'
Mr Obama stressed the importance of US trade relations with the region, saying the US bought more Latin American products and invested more in the region than any other country.
Once again, President Obama's tour of Latin America was slightly overshadowed by events elsewhere in the world, notably in Libya. At a news conference at Chile's presidential palace he reiterated that it was "US policy that Gaddafi needs to go".
Later, he wrested attention back towards the Americas, hailing a new spirit of partnership between the US and the region. Mr Obama acknowledged that US ties with its neighbours to the south had sometimes been "extremely rocky". He was reminded that the US covertly supported the military coup in 1973, which ushered in the rule of Gen Augusto Pinochet. But he said those days were over, and that the old stereotype of Latin America as a region of turmoil was outdated.
Mr Obama is one of the most popular US presidents ever to visit the region, but the euphoria that greeted his election has started to wane, amid a growing feeling that American interests lie elsewhere. He has been at pains to dispel that perception during this trip, but with Japan and Libya dominating headlines it has not been easy.
Mr Obama emphasised shared historic experience and democratic values.
"We are all Americans," he said. "There are no senior partners or junior partners, only equal partners".
Mr Obama acknowledged that in the past relations had sometimes been difficult.
"I know that, at times, the United States has taken this region for granted," he said.
And the US president said progress in the Americas had not come fast enough, highlighting enduring corruption and "stark" inequalities.
He said criminal gangs and drug cartels posed a direct threat to democracy and economic development in the region.
But he said the US accepted its shared responsibility for the problem and would boost security cooperation while implementing a strategy to reduce demand for drugs.
Mr Obama also criticised the communist government in Cuba, urging it to "respect the basic rights of its citizens".
"We'll continue to seek ways to increase the independence of the Cuban people, who are entitled to the same freedom and liberty as everyone else in this hemisphere," he said.
Mr Obama arrived from Rio where he praised Brazil as a model of democracy.
From Chile, Mr Obama heads to El Salvador for talks with President Mauricio Funes.
Rising crime and insecurity in Central America is concerning US officials.