Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced on Monday that he will not attend the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, a setback for the United States’ efforts to gather states to work together to confront the hemisphere’s burgeoning migrant crisis.
For the first time since 1994, López Obrador had been leading a chorus of primarily leftist leaders urging the US to invite Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela to the meeting.
Other leaders, including those from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador – three of the most important sources of migration to the United States — have stated that they will also stay away.
“There cannot be an Americas Summit if not all of the continent’s countries participate,” López Obrador said Monday, indicating that Mexico would be represented instead by his foreign affairs secretary, Marcelo Ebrard. “Or there can be one, but that is to continue with the old interventionist politics.”
The White House defended its choice to exclude certain countries while also announcing that López Obrador will travel to Washington in July to speak with Vice President Joe Biden.
Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, claimed there was an “open and honest dialogue” with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto regarding the summit.
“Dictators should not be invited,” Jean-Pierre stated.
With so many no-shows, critics say the event risks becoming an embarrassment for President Joe Biden, who has struggled to reassert U.S. leadership in a region where mistrust of the US runs high and China has made significant inroads in the last two decades as the United States’ foreign policy has been dominated by wars in the Middle East and now Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Even some of the attendees expressed dissatisfaction with the United States.
At a news conference in Ottawa with visiting Chilean President Gabriel Boric, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau remarked, “We have always been there to support and protect human rights in Cuba.”
“We’ve campaigned for more democracy as well.” The perspective of Canada on Cuba has always been distinct from that of the United States.”
Boric, a 36-year-old socialist millennial, stated that if the US wishes to exclude countries, delegates would have the option to make statements.
Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is a vocal critic of the Cuban regime, praised the exclusion of Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela while criticising López Obrador’s choice to miss Los Angeles.
According to Menendez, the Mexican president is on the side of the United States “in a meeting with his colleagues from across the hemisphere over representing the interests of the Mexican people.”
The Biden administration stated that despotic nations that arrest opponents and rig elections would be excluded from future gatherings, citing a declaration from the 2001 summit in Quebec City, in which the region’s governments agreed to exclude any government that violates democratic order.
Many critics, including some progressive Democrats, have chastised the administration for caving in to pressure from exiles in Florida’s swing state to exclude communist Cuba from the last two summits.
Biden has reversed many of Trump’s initiatives tightening a decades-old US embargo on Cuba since taking office, adding to the impression of last-minute improvisation.
He also dispatched a high-ranking delegation to meet with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to discuss possible relief from punishing oil sanctions in exchange for a commitment to resume talks with the US-backed opposition.
“The real question is why the Biden administration failed to do its research,” said Jorge Castaeda, a former Mexican foreign minister who now teaches at NYU.
While the Biden administration claims that the president will outline his vision for a better America in Los Angeles, “Castaneda said it’s clear from the last-minute wrangling over the guest list that Latin America isn’t a priority for the US president, “a sustainable, resilient, and equitable future” for the hemisphere.
President Bill Clinton convened the Summit of the Americas in an attempt to rally support for a free trade pact that would extend from Alaska to Argentina.
However, due to a surge in communist politics in the region, that goal was abandoned over 15 years ago. Most countries have grown to expect — and require — less from Washington as China’s influence grows.
As a result, the premier forum for regional cooperation has slowed, occasionally devolving into a platform for airing historical grievances, such as when late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez presented President Barack Obama with a copy of Eduardo Galeano’s classic track “The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent” at the 2009 summit in Trinidad & Tobago.
Some of the ideological tensions were eased by the United States’ openness to the erstwhile Cold War foe Cuba, which was formalised by Obama’s handshake with Raul Castro at the 2015 Panama summit.
To boost turnout, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have been on the phone with the leaders of Argentina and Honduras, both of which initially backed Mexico’s boycott.
President Alberto Fernández’s administration confirmed his attendance on Monday.
Former Senator Christopher Dodd crisscrossed the area as a special adviser for the conference, pushing far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who hasn’t spoken to Biden, to belatedly confirm his attendance.
Trump didn’t even show up for the most recent summit in Peru in 2018, prompting many to believe the regional gathering had no future.
Only 17 of the region’s 35 heads of state showed up in response to Trump’s withdrawal. Few saw the benefit of bringing together leaders from such disparate locales as aid-dependent Haiti, industrial powerhouses Mexico and Brazil, and violence-plagued Central America for a picture op — each with their own set of issues and bilateral agendas with Washington.
The United States surprised many by agreeing to host the summit in early 2019. At the moment, the Trump administration was enjoying a leadership rebirth in Latin America, albeit centred on the limited topic of restoring democracy in Venezuela.
However, Trump’s goodwill was shattered when he suggested invading Venezuela to depose Nicolás Maduro, a threat reminiscent of the Cold War’s worst excesses.
Then came the pandemic, which claimed the lives of over a quarter of the world’s COVID-19 victims despite accounting for only 8% of the population. The politics of the region had been thrown into disarray.
The election of Biden, who served as Obama’s point man for Latin America and had decades of firsthand experience in the region as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, raised hopes for a restart.
However, as public fear grew during the pandemic, the Biden administration was slow to match Russia and China’s vaccine diplomacy, even providing 70 million doses to the hemisphere in the end. Biden also upheld Trump’s immigration limits, furthering the perception that the country was abandoning its own citizens.
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Since then, Biden’s signature policy in the region — a $4 billion aid plan aimed at addressing the core causes of migration in Central America — has stagnated in Congress, with no indication that it would be revived.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also drawn attention away from the area, which experts believe could backfire if rising interest rates in the United States precipitated a wave of capital outflows and debt defaults in developing economies.