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Obama, in Brazil, Offers Familiar Slogan to Corporate Audience


SÃO PAULO, Brazil — Former President Barack Obama on Thursday told business leaders in Brazil that he regretted not having been able to do more to remedy the deeply polarized politics of the United States while he was in office.

Mr. Obama did not mention his successor’s name and steered clear of discussing the turbulence afflicting President Trump’s administration.

The former president also did not bring up the Trump administration’s efforts to reverse the reconciliation he negotiated with Cuba in 2014, a signature policy initiative that was hailed across Latin America.

“My biggest regret is not being able to bridge the differences that were emerging in our politics as much as I wanted,” Mr. Obama told an audience of about 1,000 people who paid $1,500 to $2,400 to hear him speak.

Mr. Obama has given at least 10 paid speeches since leaving office, charging as much as $400,000 per appearance. He has addressed audiences in Montreal, Italy and Indonesia in recent months. A spokesman declined to say how much he was paid for this speech.

His 23-minute keynote address in São Paulo, Brazil’s financial capital, was titled “Change the World? Yes, You Can,” echoing his 2008 campaign slogan, “Yes, we can.”

Mr. Obama made only fleeting references to the scandals that have roiled Brazil in recent years, ensnarling scores of politicians and business leaders in a wide-ranging corruption investigation. Political leaders “have to be held accountable,” Mr. Obama said, without elaborating.

The event, sponsored by the Spanish bank Santander and the Brazilian media conglomerates Valor and Globo, attracted mainly bankers and other business people.

For Brazilians, it was an opportunity to see a statesman who was widely admired here when he was president and whose message about overcoming political divisions resonates powerfully in a country that has endured years of political upheaval.

“He’s a pop star here,” said Fernando, an asset manager from a rival bank who declined to give his full name. “It was worth every penny.”

But Claudia, another attendee who declined to give her last name, said she was underwhelmed after paying a discounted rate, $1,116. “It was a bit disappointing,” she whispered. “I don’t feel like he said anything new.”

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