Biden is trying to avoid the failure of the Summit of the Americas

When the continent’s leaders gather this week in Los Angeles for the Summit of the Americas, the focus will likely shift from implementing policy changes to common issues — migration, climate change and inflation. Carpet drama.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador heads a list of leaders threatening to stay at home in protest against the United States’ exclusion of the autocrats of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela from the summit, prompting some experts to say the event could become an embarrassment for them. US President Joe Biden. Some progressive Democrats even criticized the government for capitulating to pressure from Cuban exiles in Florida and excluding socialist Cuba, which had attended the past two summits.

“The real question is why the Biden administration didn’t do its homework,” said Jorge Castaneda, a former Mexican foreign minister who now teaches at New York University.

Despite the US government’s insistence that Biden will outline in Los Angeles his vision of a “sustainable, strong and equitable future” in the hemisphere, Castaneda said it was clear from the last-minute controversy over the guest list that Latina America is not a priority for the president of the United States.

“This ambitious agenda, no one knows exactly what it is, is beyond a series of platitudes,” he said.

The United States is hosting the summit for the first time since it opened in Miami in 1994 as part of efforts to cement support for a free trade agreement stretching from Alaska to Patagonia.

But that goal was abandoned more than 15 years ago amid the rise of leftist governments in the region. As Chinese influence expands, most countries expect – and need – less from Washington. Thus, the main forum for regional cooperation has weakened, sometimes becoming a theater for the expression of historical grievances, as when the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez gave US President Barack Obama a copy of Eduardo Galeano’s classic treatise, “Las Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of Pillaging the Continent”. ‘, during the 2009 summit in Trinidad and Tobago.

The rapprochement between the United States and its longtime foe Cuba, sealed by the handshake of Obama and Raul Castro at the 2015 summit in Panama, lowered some ideological tensions.

“It’s a huge missed opportunity,” Ben Rhodes, who led the warmth with Cuba from his position as deputy national security adviser in the Obama administration, said on the “Pod Save the World” podcast.

“We are isolating ourselves by taking this step because you have Mexico, and there are Caribbean countries that say they won’t come, which is something that will make Cuba look stronger than us,” he added.

To boost turnout and avoid failure, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have been busy on the phone in recent days, speaking with Argentine President Alberto Fernandez and Honduran President Xiomara Castro, who initially expressed support for proposed Mexico to implement a boycott. Former Senator Christopher Dodd also toured the region extensively as a special adviser to the summit, where he persuaded right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro to confirm his attendance. Bolsonaro was a staunch ally of former US President Donald Trump, but he did not speak to Biden once.

Ironically, the decision to exclude Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela was not a whim of the United States. During the Quebec Summit in 2001, the governments of the region declared that any break with the democratic system is a “fatal obstacle” to the ability to participate in these summits in the future.

The governments of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela are not even active members of the Organization of American States, the Washington-based organization that organizes the meeting.

“This should have been a talking point from the start,” said former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Tom Shannon, who attended several summits during his long diplomatic career. It is not an imposition of the United States. It was default. If the stewards want to change that, we have to have a conversation first.”

After the last summit, which was held in Peru in 2018 that Trump did not bother to attend, many expected that the regional meeting had no future. In response to the historic absence of the US president, only 17 of the 35 heads of state in the region attended the meeting. Few would appreciate bringing together rulers from vastly different places to take a picture, including aid-dependent Haiti; The industrial powers of Mexico and Brazil, and the Central American region plagued by violence, each have their own challenges and bilateral agendas with Washington.

said former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos, who also blamed Mexico and Brazil – the region’s two economic powers – for the current erosion in intra-hemispheric relations. “Maybe it is a cacophony of voices, and that, of course, makes our place in the world more difficult.

To the surprise of many, the United States stepped forward in 2019 and offered to host the meeting. At the time, the Trump administration was enjoying something of a leadership renaissance in Latin America, though only among like-minded conservative governments on the thorny issue of restoring democracy to Venezuela.

But that good behavior went overseas when Trump floated the idea of ​​invading Venezuela to oust Nicolas Maduro, a threat that was reminiscent of the worst excesses of the Cold War. Then the epidemic came, and it had a devastating impact on the population and economies of a region where more than 25% of the world’s deaths from COVID-19 have been recorded, despite the fact that it has only 8% of the world’s population. Latin American politics have been disrupted.

Biden’s election generated expectations of a relaunch of relations, having been Obama’s right-hand man for Latin America and had decades of first-hand experience in the region during his time on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Public anxiety spread during the pandemic, but the Biden administration moved slowly to match Russian and Chinese vaccine diplomacy, eventually distributing 70 million doses across the hemisphere. Biden has also maintained the Trump administration’s restrictions on immigration, reinforcing the image that he is ignoring his neighbors.

Since then, Biden’s signature policy in the region – a $4 billion aid package to address the root causes of immigration in Central America – has faltered in Congress, with no apparent attempts to revive him. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has also caused less attention to the region, something experts say could backfire on Washington if higher US interest rates lead to capital flight and debt defaults across the country.

There were also other, smaller instances of humiliation: when the leftist Gabriel Borek was elected president of Chile, raising expectations of a generational change among politicians in the region, the American delegation attending his inauguration was led by Isabel Guzman, director of the federal government. Small Business Agency and the penultimate member of the Cabinet in terms of ranking.

For the summit to succeed, Shannon said, Biden should try not to present a great American vision of the hemisphere, but rather to demonstrate sensitivity to the region’s rapprochement with other world powers, concerns about massive inequality, and the traditional distrust of Latin American nations toward Latin American nations. United State.

“More than giving speeches, he’s going to need to listen,” Shannon said.

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Goodman reported from Miami.

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Associated Press writers Matthew Lee in Washington, Daniel Politi in Buenos Aires, David Beller in Rio de Janeiro and Gonzalo Solano in Quito contributed to this report.

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