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Obama charms Brazilians during two-day visit, observers say

By Helena de Moura, For CNN
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Obama plays soccer in Brazil
  • President Barack Obama speaks a few words in Portuguese
  • "Our journeys began in similar ways," Obama said
  • First family visits Rio de Janeiro's most notorious shanty neighborhood

(CNN) -- Brazil's cool and contentious relationship with the United States over trade and foreign policy has warmed a few degrees, analysts said Sunday, as President Barack Obama's visit appeared to charm officials and crowds during his two-day visit to South America's largest nation.

Sustained applause echoed through Rio de Janeiro's Municipal Theatre as Obama spoke a few words in Portuguese, made allusions to Brazilian culture and drew parallels to U.S. history.

"Our journeys began in similar ways," Obama said during the televised speech.

"We became colonies claimed for distant crowns, but soon declared our independence. We welcomed waves of immigrants to our shores, and eventually cleansed the stain of slavery from our land," he said.

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President arrives in Brazil

"It was an historic speech," said Eduardo Eugenio Gouvea Viera, who represents FIRJAN, Brazil's leading industry federation.

"The message he gave was that the most worthy value to Brazilians and Americans is freedom," Viera told Brazil's official Agencia Brasil.

Abdias Nascimento, a representative of Brazil's Movimento Negro, said Obama's speech was "profound."

"Obama succeeded in striking the most sensitive chords in the souls of Brazil and Americans," Nascimento told Agencia Brasil.

Other officials, such as former Environment Minister Marina Silva, criticized Obama for not mentioning the environment and emissions trade negotiations, issues that have put Brazil and the United States at odds.

Earlier Sunday, Obama's motorcade made its way up the winding, narrow alleys of Rio de Janeiro's most notorious and celebrated shanty neighborhood, the so-called Cidade de Deus, whose brutal drug war and racial disparity became immortalized in the Oscar-nominated film, "City of God."

The first family's visit to a favela -- a Portuguese word for shanty -- was a symbolic gesture that reverberated through a nation known for its strong African heritage but with a tarnished record on racial and class discrimination.

Greeted by favela residents who cheered the arrival of the first family, Cidade de Deus schoolchildren watched curiously a rare and memorable scene began to unfold, as most Brazilians seldom see blacks holding positions of power.

First lady Michelle Obama, wore the colors of the Brazilian flag, and daughters Sasha and Malia clapped enthusiastically to performances of capoeira and samba, some of Brazil's best known African-influenced music, seeming at ease.

Brazilian newspapers reported that crowds cheered as the presidential motorcade moved on, some carrying banners that read "Obama, where are you, I am here just to see you." One man held a sign which read, "Thank you Obama for making the White House Black."

A group of protesters were barred from holding an anti-American and anti-Guantanamo rally, Brazil's official news agency reported.