Vacant embassies and clashes with US stoke tensions ahead of Summit of the Americas


Just weeks before the Summit of the Americas, US ambassadors to several Latin American countries are still not in place and the Biden administration is facing an outcry over the possibility of staging the rally without some of the leftist leaders. of the region.

Held every three years in a different country, the ninth Summit of the Americas is scheduled for Los Angeles from June 6-10, the first summit hosted by the United States since the inaugural event in Miami in 1994.

At each summit, the United States has the chance to strengthen its influence in the region, helping to shape policy and solidify alliances with countries and leaders in Latin America and the Caribbean.

But partisan politics in Congress and what some describe as an administration slowdown have hampered confirmation of Biden’s Senate nominees, leaving the United States without ambassadors in several participating countries.

Moreover, the signal that the administration will not invite the leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela has sparked a wave of boycott threats from other nations, such as Mexico and Bolivia.

Missing ambassadors?

Latin American expert Christopher Sabatini wrote this month for Foreign Policy magazine that, given the current situation, this year’s summit “could be interpreted as a tombstone of American influence in the region”. .

“It’s absurd that we have a meeting scheduled in three weeks and we don’t have ambassadors in some of the key countries,” said Sabatini, senior Latin America researcher at Chatham House, a think tank based in London, at NBC News. in an interview.

Among those awaiting confirmation is Frank O. Mora, a candidate for the Organization of American States, an international organization of 34 nations in the Americas, including the United States. The OAS Ambassador plays a key role in organizing the summit and usually accompanies the President.

Mora, a former Pentagon official in the Obama administration, was nominated last July but was only recently scheduled for a May 18 confirmation hearing.

Half a dozen candidates for ambassadorships in the region, including Brazil, El Salvador and Panama, are waiting to be confirmed. The administration has yet to appoint ambassadors to several other countries. Ambassadors or appointees normally have the political clout to get things done in the White House, as opposed to a charge d’affaires, a diplomatic official who may be more risk averse.

Senate confirmations already take a long time, and a single senator can prevent a nomination from going to a floor vote by putting it on “hold.” Cancellation of such a hold can be effected by the majority leader, but this may further delay the process.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, delayed ambassadorial nominations until February over Russia’s proposed gas pipeline. This created a backlog in the Senate, which affected the entire nomination process, according to a Senate aide. Ambassadorial appointments are blocked by higher-level confirmations, such as the ambassadors to Ukraine and NATO, as well as the counterterrorism coordinator.

Political divides over US relations with Cuba also filtered through Mora’s confirmations.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, voiced his opposition to Mora, tweeting after his appointment that he is “a strong supporter of engaging with the regime in #Cubabeing the U.S. Ambassador to the OAS is another slap in the face for Cubans demanding freedom.

Sen. Bob Menendez, DN.J., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, hasn’t said publicly if he supports Mora, but like Rubio and Cruz, he has traditionally taken a tough stance on Cuba. .

Decisions on who to invite to the summit are usually made months in advance, but administration officials said through Tuesday that a final decision had not yet been made and invitations would not be accepted. had not been sent.

Brian Nichols, assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, said in April that authoritarian leaders from Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela were unlikely to be invited to the summit.

The Inter-American Democratic Charter was signed in 2001 by all the countries of the region, with the exception of Cuba, and stipulates that “one of the objectives of the OAS is to promote and consolidate representative democracy”.

This has been used in the past to exclude Cuba from the summit, but the communist island was invited to the latest summit in Peru and the previous one in Panama by the host countries – not the United States.

The Biden administration has continued the tough policies and sanctions on Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba initiated by the Trump administration, and has suggested inviting the leaders would be contrary to upholding democratic ideals.

“We know the summit is a valuable opportunity to focus on some of the most important common issues, like the ongoing struggle for freedom and democracy for every country,” the White House press secretary said this week. , Jen Psaki.

The exclusion of the three countries provoked a violent reaction from other leaders.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said this week that “if everyone is not invited, I will not go”.

His statement was followed by similar comments from Bolivian President Luis Arce and Honduran President Xiomara Castro.

Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the United States said in April that if Cuba was not invited, the 14 countries that make up the Caribbean Community countries would not participate either.

Juan Cruz, who served as senior director of the National Security Council for the Western Hemisphere during the Trump administration, said that normally US government officials would have prepared countries in advance for the likelihood of those countries being not invited.

“You clearly explain that they are anti-democratic, that they violate human rights. We’re not going to settle this at a summit,” Cruz said. “Even if countries don’t agree with you, they understand.”

Sabatini echoed a similar sentiment, siding with the United States in not inviting countries that lack representative democracy.

“It’s appalling to me that these backward and pariah regimes own the narrative,” Sabatini said, referring to Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

“History should not be the reason why Cuba and others are boycotting,” he said, calling the current situation “a failure of diplomacy.”

“History should explain why the United States does not invite them,” he said.

The chaos at this year’s summit follows years of waning impact.

“The last highs were a disappointment,” said Juan Cruz. “The agenda was thin and important issues were not discussed.”

Then-President Donald Trump skipped the last summit in Lima, Peru in 2018. Cruz, who has held various regional positions in multiple administrations, attended the summit with Vice President Mike Pence, who went in place of Trump.

Some of the summit’s themes, such as migration, may be important for the United States, but not necessarily for the region as a whole, Cruz said.

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