Through the summit, U.S. leaders and others from North, Central and South America and the Caribbean are expected to explore economic relations and broader goals for the Western Hemisphere. Discussions are expected to cover topics including democracy, clean energy, politics, migration and recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
The United States, however, is hosting for the first time since the summit began in Miami in 1994 with President Bill Clinton. This year’s rally has already sparked controversy due to apparent plans to exclude Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, countries considered undemocratic regimes, leading to leaders of other countries, including Mexico , threatening to stay away.
The summit will help indicate how far the White House plans to go to help countries where decades of inequality and corruption, as well as the calamitous toll of the pandemic, have fueled waves of popular discontent.
“It will be the measure of American engagement in Latin America for years to come,” said Benjamin Gedan, a former White House official who is acting director of the Wilson Center’s Latin America program.
If the White House fails to take concrete action to address these challenges and provide a viable substitute for China’s growing influence, Gedan said, it will have a devastating impact on the United States’ position in the region.
“Now is definitely the time to offer that alternative,” Gedan said.
The summit comes as Latin American leaders assess Biden’s record against their lofty expectations for his presidency. Biden, who is expected to attend Wednesday through Saturday, will be joined by Vice President Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other top officials and lawmakers.
When Biden took office, many regional officials hoped the president, with his foreign policy credentials and role spearheading regional engagement under President Barack Obama, would herald an era of involvement. renewed following the more transactional approach of the Trump administration, which was largely focused on pressuring Mexico and Central America to curb migration.
President Donald Trump himself established close personal ties with politicians such as El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who admired Trump’s no-holds-barred approach.
Many analysts say the Biden administration has so far failed to mobilize U.S. investment in much-needed infrastructure or incentivize companies to set up supply chains in neighboring, U.S.-friendly countries. where labor and environmental practices can be better monitored, a practice known as “friend-shoring. Biden has also struggled to advance a pro-democracy and anti-corruption agenda in a region where authoritarian and populist leadership is on the rise.
In the meantime, China has continued to deepen its roots in the region, investing heavily in bridges, roads and other infrastructure and raising concern in the Pentagon with its moves to secure stakes in the Panama Canal. and a space project in Argentina. Beijing now ranks as the top trading partner for many Latin American countries.
Ahead of the summit, officials declined to provide details, but said Biden would advance initiatives to tackle climate change, food insecurity and a collaborative approach to a regional migration crisis that has sent millions of people leave Haiti, Venezuela and other countries.
Rebecca Bill Chavez, a former Pentagon official who leads the Inter-American Dialogue, said the administration must maintain high-level engagement in the region.
“This shouldn’t be considered a one-time event,” she said. “This should be seen as a starting point for action.”
But uncertainty over who will attend and several leaders’ plans to stay away have proved a major distraction for the White House’s attempts to highlight a more active approach to the region.
Although Biden administration officials declined to provide details on the invitation list, they cited the authoritarian nature of the governments of Cuba and Nicaragua as grounds for possibly excluding leaders from those countries.
The United States has long insisted, sometimes with the support of a minority but often over the objection of the majority of governments in the hemisphere, that Cuba not be invited to the summits. This position changed as the Obama administration restored diplomatic relations with Havana. In 2015, Obama met then-Cuban President Raúl Castro at the summit held in Panama City. Cuba was represented by its foreign minister at the 2018 summit, which was held in Peru.
The administration’s plan to invite Juan Guaidó, the former head of Venezuela’s Legislative Assembly, in place of President Nicolás Maduro, to the summit is also under consideration. Although the United States recognizes Guaidó as the legitimate ruler of the country, other nations do not recognize him.
Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel said he would “under no circumstances” attend the rally.
“The United States has engaged in intensive efforts and brutal pressure to demobilize the just and strong demands of the majority of countries in the region demanding that the summit be inclusive,” he said on Twitter. May 25.
An indicator of the summit’s success will be be if Mexico’s leftist president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, decides to attend. Officials appear hopeful that the Mexican leader, who has said he will not show up unless Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua are invited, will be in Los Angeles for the summit.
Biden has had a complicated relationship with López Obrador, who has grown closer to Trump despite his 2019 threat to impose rigid tariffs unless migration is contained. Mexico’s president relented, deploying hundreds of members of the military and national guard to detain migrants bound for the United States.
López Obrador continued to work closely with the United States on migration, and he maintained the North American Free Trade Agreement. But he has also seized opportunities to show his independence from Washington — offering political asylum to ousted Bolivian President Evo Morales and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and expressing warm support for Cuba’s communist government.
Juan Gonzalez, a senior White House official for Latin America, downplayed the importance of the attendance list during a call with reporters on Thursday.
“We are very confident that the summit will be well attended, that our relationship with Mexico remains and will continue to remain positive,” he said. “We really want President López Obrador to be there. The President of the United States very personally wants the President of Mexico to be there.
Michael McKinley, a former ambassador to Peru, Colombia, Afghanistan and Brazil who is now an adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the invitation dispute illustrates fundamental differences between Washington and some countries in the region.
While U.S. officials believe the majority of countries in the hemisphere have pledged to make democratic rule a litmus test for cooperation, pointing to a pro-democracy charter signed in Peru on September 11, 2001, some countries are not Okay.
“The big question is whether the Summit of the Americas is supposed to be a gathering of all the nations of the hemisphere or not,” McKinley said.
Both Biden and Harris have taken a public and vocal stance against governments that commit human rights abuses or are plagued by corruption, including some with open invitations to the summit. They have also sought to address the root causes of migration, in some cases channeling aid through Central American governments.
Anyone showing up in Los Angeles this week, say advocates of a more active US role in the region, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who chairs the Western Hemisphere subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, welcomed the administration’s decision to donate about 70 million coronavirus vaccines in the region, but said more needed to be done to promote trade and tackle corruption and other endemic problems.
“When we don’t pay attention to these issues, the migration challenges we face get worse and worse,” he said.
Above the summit are larger questions about where Latin America should fit into the constellation of foreign policy challenges facing the Biden administration — and any administration — including economic upswing and China’s military, an unpredictable and antagonistic Russia, the global implications of climate change and many other issues.
Chavez said the United States must adopt a policy of persistent high-level engagement.
“I understand that Latin America cannot be our top priority,” she said. “But he must be on the list.”