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World

German president heads to Latin America to boost ties

German President Christian Wulff heads to Latin America Saturday for a week-long visit which will take him to Mexico, Costa Rica and Brazil. The trip aims to boost Germany's interests and partnerships in the region.

German President Christian Wulff with his wife Bettina

Wulff and his wife Bettina aim to forge stronger links

President Christian Wulff heads to Latin America on Saturday to deepen Germany's economic and cultural ties with the continent.

"The countries of Latin America are indispensable partners in tackling global challenges," Wulff said before his departure on what will be his longest trip abroad as president.

The first stop is Teotihuacan in Mexico, known as the "City of the Gods."

Wheat in the field

The El Batan center conducts research into making crop supplies more dependable

Wulff is then set to visit the International Maize and Wheat Research Center (CYMMIT) which focuses on gene research. Germany supports the institute with 1.2 million euros ($1.78 million) each year.

Located in El Batan, near the Mexican capital, the institute has one of the world's largest gene banks with around 1,500 types of corn and wheat.

"Food security is one of the world's most pressing problems," Hans Joachim Braun from the CYMMIT, told Deutsche Welle. "Food prices have reached a record high," he said, adding that developing countries are hit hardest by the price hikes. On average, people in the developing world spend more than 50 percent of their income on food, he said.

"If the industrialized countries don't share their wealth with the poor, then the latter will share their poverty with the rich," Braun warned.

Human rights and academic ties

The German president will also focus on boosting business ties with Mexico, with meetings between German and Mexican companies on the agenda. Another aim is to strengthen relations with President Felipe Calderon and with civil rights organizations.

Mexican security officer with a drug haul

Drug-related violence has claimed thousands of lives in Mexico

One area of concern is Mexico's high crime rate and escalating drug-related violence which has killed more than 40,000 people in the last six years. Human rights groups claim that politicians and the military are often involved in the crimes.

After Mexico, Wulff will head to San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica - often referred to as the "Switzerland of Latin America."

The German leader will take part in a conference of former scholarship holders of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) in Central America. The event will mark 25 years of the organization in the region. It was set up by former German Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich Genscher.

Costa Rica's ambassador Jose Chaverri pointed to growing academic cooperation between Germany and the region, adding that there were some 35 cooperation treaties between universities in Germany and in Central America. Over 2,300 Central American and around 500 German scholars have participated in DAAD programs so far.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff

Trading is likely to be on the agenda when Rousseff and Wulff meet

The DAAD's Central America office is based in Costa Rica. Its aim was to help rebuild universities in the region after the civil wars of the 1970s and 1980s. Today, professors and researchers from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and Costa Rica are trained at the institute.

Next stop - Brazil

In Brazil, Wulff will hold talks with his counterpart Dilma Rousseff. Her country remains Germany's most important trading and business partner in Latin America. That's reflected in the "Strategic Partnership" forged by German Chancellor Angela Merkel with former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in 2008.

Both countries share common interests whether it's the abolition of nuclear weapons, reforming the United Nations or regulating the global financial system.

In Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city, Wulff is to inaugurate a German research center as well as visit a soccer museum in the Pacaembu stadium. Brazil is hosting the soccer World Cup in 2014 as well as the Olympic Games in 2016 in Rio - which makes the trip all the more worthwhile for the large business delegation accompanying Wulff.

The German president himself is reportedly sure of one thing - his country winning the World Cup in Brazil.

Author: Eva Usi (sp)
Editor: Rob Mudge

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