Obama has embarked on a trip to Latin America that many in the hemisphere consider long overdue and that the White House believes will help restore US influence in the region.

Over the next five days, Obama, who landed in Brasilia on Saturday, is to visit Brazil, Chile and El Salvador in what his aides cast as a mission to build job-creating opportunities for the US and to address regional security concerns.

The trip is also an effort to solidify relationships that have declined two years after Obama declared "a new chapter of engagement" with the region.

In that time, China has expanded its economic footprint in the region and has surpassed the US as Brazil's senior trade partner.

Despite the competing, pressing demands on Obama, the White House has been determined to proceed with the trip, emphasising the potential of the burgeoning region for US economic growth.

Obama's departure on Friday came a day after the UN Security Council approved a no-fly zone over Libya and authorised "all necessary measures" to protect civilians from attacks by Muammar Gaddafi's forces.

In Latin America, Obama will meet Dilma Rousseff, the recently elected Brazilian president; Sebastian Pinera, his Chilean counterpart; and Mauricio Funes, the El Salvadoran president.

Stark contrast

In selecting those three countries in particular, Obama is reaching out to nations whose political leaders have displayed a pragmatic governing style and where anti-Americanism is on the wane.

As such they stand in stark contrast to Venezuela and Bolivia, led by leftist populists known for agitating against the US.

At the same time, in Brazil, Chile and El Salvador, Obama is highlighting democracies that have emerged from turbulent pasts and that, in his administration's view, serve as examples of a pathway out of the current upheaval in the Middle East.

Obama first travelled to the region in April 2009 when he attended a 34-nation summit in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.

Since then, however, his attention to Latin America has been devoted to drug-related violence in Mexico as other issues in the region took a back seat to domestic and international priorities.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies