updated 3/16/2011 11:24:49 AM ET 2011-03-16T15:24:49

The White House says there is a changing attitude about the United States in Latin America as President Barack Obama heads to the region later this week.

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Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes says Obama is "hugely popular" in Latin America, and overall, the opinion of U.S. leadership there is on the rise. Rhodes says leaders in the region, like Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, can no longer stoke anti-American sentiment to promote their agendas.

Obama departs Washington late Friday for a five-day trip to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador.

The White House says the trip will underscore the deep partnership between the U.S. and Latin America, particularly on the economy. Obama aides have been promoting job creation in the U.S. as a benefit of increasing ties with the region.

Trip still on, says Obama spokesman
The White House said Tuesday that Obama will stick to his upcoming itinerary in Brazil, Chile and El Salvador despite mounting international troubles demanding his time.

"The trip is on," Obama spokesman Jay Carney said as Japan's nuclear power plant crisis and upheaval across the Middle East consumed the administration's attention. "You have to remember that economic growth in the United States is the president's top priority, and this trip is very focused on economic opportunities for the United States and trade relationships."

Yet foreign trips by presidents are often shaped or overshadowed by the context of the times. This one comes in the aftermath of Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami, including the ongoing nuclear radiation scare in Japan, and in the midst of more Mideast unrest. Carney said Obama always has the capability to deal with any issue while traveling abroad.

Story: On high-profile issues, Obama keeps low profile

Obama will be out of the country from Saturday through the following Wednesday.

In previewing the Brazil portion of the trip, White House officials sought to draw a direct link between the United States' booming trade relationship with Brazil and the way that can increase job opportunities at home.

Story: Obama defends nuclear energy

U.S. economy remains chief concern
The state of the economy remains the chief concern among U.S. voters and is expected to play a huge role in Obama's re-election chances.

"As countries like Brazil see great masses of their population enter the middle class, that's a market for us," Mike Froman, deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs, said Tuesday. He said U.S. exports to Brazil have doubled in the past five years; Brazil has grown to become the seventh largest economy in the world.

The White House went so far as to break down how much certain states, including politically vital ones like Florida and Ohio, produce in exports to Brazil.

In Brasilia, the nation's capital, Obama will meet on Saturday with corporate executives from both the U.S. and Brazil and then give a speech to a business summit timed for his visit. On the trip will be an entourage of economic voices from the administration, including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, whom Obama has nominated to be the next U.S. ambassador to China.

Obama will also use his two-day Brazil visit to develop his working relationship with the country's new president, Dilma Rousseff.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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