(MEXICO CITY) – The week-long Summit of the Americas, set to begin June 8 in Los Angeles, is a big deal for the Western Hemisphere – bringing together leaders from North, Central and South America and the Caribbean .
But President Joe Biden’s opportunity to host the high-level gathering is fraught with major issues that threaten to undermine the meetings — and Biden’s efforts to reassert American leadership in the region.
Several leaders are threatening to boycott the summit because the United States has decided not to invite the governments of Venezuela and Nicaragua. And without the participation of these leaders, agenda items like a regional agreement on migration and efforts to address climate change and the economic and social impacts of COVID-19 are in doubt.
“If all the countries are not invited, I will not go,” Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador reiterated on Friday. He has repeatedly said that all countries in the region should be invited, including those that Washington considers authoritarian and which are under US sanctions – Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
Such criticism has prompted the Biden administration to scramble to boost turnout, including sending Vice President Kamala Harris, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, and a special adviser to the summit, former Democratic Senator Chris. Dodd.
“Will it be the Summit of the Americas or the Friends of America Summit? Because if these countries are excluded, what continent do they come from? Don’t they come from the Americas? López Obrador, known by his initials AMLO, added during a press conference on Friday.
Losing the leader of Mexico, the world’s 15th largest economy and one of the most important players in the region, would be a blow. U.S. officials, including Dodd, Biden’s friend and former Senate colleague, have spoken with the AMLO government to ensure his attendance.
But AMLO is not alone. The leaders of Bolivia, Antigua and Barbuda and Guatemala announced that they would not participate. And others, notably in Chile and Argentina, have criticized the snubs.
Even Honduras, whose leftist president – the first in the country’s history – has been inundated with attention by the Biden administration, has threatened not to attend.
“I will only attend the summit if all the countries of the Americas are invited without exception,” President Xiomara Castro tweeted on Saturday.
That line in the sand was drawn just hours after Castro spoke with Vice President Harris. Harris, whom Biden has tapped to oversee administration efforts to curb migration from Central America, has sought to find an ally for Castro — attending his inauguration in January and becoming the first foreign leader that Castro met after taking office.
While the American reading of their Friday call made no mention of the summit, the fact that Castro voiced clear opposition so soon after is another troubling sign for the administration.
“Whether or not a widespread boycott of the summit materializes, the tensions in regional relations between the United States will have been exposed in an unflattering light,” wrote Michael McKinley, who served as US ambassador to Brazil. in Colombia and Peru. piece for the American Institute of Peace.
“The uncertainties surrounding the summit,” he added, “are a wake-up call for the United States.”
The attendance bailout may be one of the reasons for recent U.S. policy reversals toward Cuba and Venezuela. Biden administration officials have denied that is the case, but a senior Caribbean nation official said they made a difference by getting 13 of 14 island nations to say yes, according to Reuters. On Friday, the US Treasury extended oil company Chevron’s license to continue operating in Venezuela, not allowing the resumption of oil exports, but another gesture of goodwill towards the government of Nicolás Maduro.
But the United States made it clear on Thursday that it was not inviting the governments of Venezuela or Nicaragua, according to Kevin O’Reilly, the top US diplomat coordinating the summit. O’Reilly said the United States still does not recognize Maduro’s legitimacy, but referred to the White House whether the United States would invite opposition leader Juan Guaidó, whom the United States recognizes as the ” interim president” of Venezuela.
While these exclusions have been confirmed, whether Dodd and others can convince AMLO to come anyway remains an open question. Mexico’s populist president, who has said he could send his foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard in his place, left the door open – praising Biden as a “good person, he’s not hard-hearted”.
But Dodd’s efforts appear to have paid off elsewhere – after meeting Dodd on Tuesday, the far-right president of Brazil, another of the region’s major powers, is in attendance, according to Brazilian newspaper O Globo. It will be the first time Biden has even spoken to Jair Bolsonaro, whose attacks on Brazil’s environment and democratic institutions – and his close ties to Donald Trump – have chilled relations with the White House.
In addition to Dodd, the administration deployed first lady Jill Biden on a six-day goodwill tour of the region this month. Biden, who will attend the summit with the president, has traveled to Ecuador, Costa Rica and Panama — and allayed concerns about a boycott between stops promoting U.S. investment and aid in each country.
“I’m not worried. I think they will come,” she told reporters as she left San Jose, Costa Rica, on May 23.
O’Reilly told the Senate on Thursday that the White House has yet to make a decision on Cuba’s invitation — a week and a half after the administration reversed Trump’s hardline policy. The White House announced that flights to cities beyond Havana will resume, people-to-people exchanges will be allowed, and remittances will no longer be capped, among other steps that have evolved into, but are not failed to achieve rapprochement under former Biden boss Barack Obama.
But regardless of the US invitation, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel announced on Wednesday that he would not participate “under any circumstances”, accusing the United States of “intensive efforts and brutal pressure to demobilize the just and firm demands of the majority of the countries of the region demanding that the Summit be inclusive.
The invitation list is also drawing criticism from Biden’s own party. Fifteen House Democrats, led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks, wrote to Biden on Thursday expressing “concern” about the decision.
“We are convinced that the exclusion of countries could jeopardize future relations across the region and jeopardize some of the ambitious policy proposals your administration has launched as part of Building a Better World,” they wrote in their letter. .
Others on Capitol Hill argued in the opposite direction — with Sen. Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the Senate Western Hemisphere subcommittee, saying Thursday that the United States should not be “bullied” by AMLO. or others and should not invite dictators.
Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.