President Barack Obama steps off Marine One helicopter before boarding Air Force One on Tuesday, March, 8, 2011. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

President Obama will depart Friday for Brazil, opting not to cancel his long-planned trip in the wake of the earthquake in Japan and other major issues that have dominated his attention over the past several weeks.

Obama will also visit Chile and El Salvador during his six-day trip. It will be his first visit to South America as president.

At a briefing at the White House on Wednesday, White House officials defended the decision to embark on the trip, even as unrest roils the Middle East, the president is getting constant briefings on the situation in Japan and the federal government lacks a funding deal for the rest of the year.

“It is a crisis in Japan, it is not a crisis in the United States,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said. “We have no plans to change the trip.”

It will be Obama’s first extended trip abroad since November, when he visited India, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan. He is also expected to visit Africa by the end of the year, although the trip has not been formally scheduled.

As they did during Obama’s November trip, White House aides plan to cast the Central and South American visit as a way to boost the U.S. economy. But it is also intended to help maintain relations with key countries.

The president will speak to a group of chief executives from both American and Brazilian companies in Brazil on Saturday. He is likely to speak about the trade relationship between the two countries, and Brazil as a market for U.S.-made goods.