Mr. Obama made only fleeting references to the corruption 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.”
Public interest groups have expressed disappointment over the speed with which Mr. Obama has cashed in after leaving office. A recent paid speech by Mr. Obama to a Wall Street firm drew pointed scorn.
Robert Weissman, the president of the Washington-based group Public Citizen, said Mr. Obama’s corporate speeches seemed jarring and tone deaf at the onset of the Trump era.
“With our democracy in such a crisis right now, Americans want to feel like their leaders aren’t cashing in,” Mr. Weissman said in an interview on Thursday. “Particularly with President Obama, who displayed such a strong ethical compass, it diminishes him at a time when the country needs him not to be diminished.”
Mr. Obama said during Thursday’s address that the pace of recovery from the economic crisis that he inherited had exacerbated divisions. “It happened slowly enough that people got frustrated and people went to their two different corners,” he said. “And the anger in our politics — rather than me being able to pull it out, it increased.”
Nonetheless, Mr. Obama said he would continue to try to bridge that gap at home and globally as a former president with his Obama Foundation, which is largely focused on young people.
Mr. Obama took part in a question-and-answer period with a moderator at the end of his remarks that elicited familiar responses. One was about climate change.
“I don’t mind if you want to have an argument with me that says, ‘You know what, there’s nothing we can do about the climate changing,’ ” Mr. Obama said. “But what I don’t want to have is an argument where you say the planet is not getting warmer.”
Mr. Obama last visited Brazil in 2011 with the first lady, Michelle Obama, and their daughters. Two years later, the United States and Brazil hit a low point in their relationship amid revelations that the National Security Agency had eavesdropped on Dilma Rousseff, then the president, who abruptly postponed a state visit to Washington in response.