When the continent’s leaders meet this week in Los Angeles for the Summit of the Americas, the focus is likely to shift from implementing policy changes on common issues – migration, climate change and inflation. galloping – and move on to something that appeals to Hollywood: red-carpet drama.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador heads a list of leaders who threaten to stay at home to protest the exclusion from the summit by the United States of the rulers of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, to which some experts say that the event could become a source of embarrassment for US President Joe Biden. Even some progressive Democrats have criticized the administration for bowing to pressure from Cuban exiles in the state of Florida and excluding socialist Cuba, which attended the last two summits.
“The real question is why didn’t the Biden administration do its homework,” said Jorge Castañeda, a former Mexican foreign secretary who now teaches at New York University.
Although the US government insists that Biden will outline in Los Angeles his vision for a “sustainable, solid and equitable future” in the hemisphere, Castañeda said that It is evident, for struggles last minute on the guest list, that Latin America is not a priority for the president of the United States.
“This ambitious agenda, nobody knows exactly what it is, beyond a series of trivialities,” he said.
The United States is hosting the summit for the first time since it opened in Miami in 1994, part of efforts to solidify 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. With the expansion of Chinese influence, most countries have come to expect – and need – less from Washington. Consequently, the main forum for regional cooperation has languished, sometimes becoming a stage for airing historic grievances, as when the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez gave US President Barack Obama a copy of Eduardo Galeano’s classic treatise, “Las Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of Plundering a Continent”, during the 2009 summit in Trinidad and Tobago.
The rapprochement of the United States with its old adversary Cuba, sealed with the handshake of Obama and Raúl Castro at the 2015 summit in Panama, reduced some of the ideological tensions.
“It’s a huge missed opportunity,” Ben Rhodes, who led the thaw with Cuba from his position as deputy national security adviser in the Obama administration, recently said on his “Pod Save the World” podcast.
“We are isolating ourselves by taking that step because you have Mexico, you have Caribbean countries saying that they are not going to come, something that is only going to 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 Fernández and Honduran President Xiomara Castro, who initially expressed support for the proposed Mexico to carry out a boycott. Former Sen. Christopher Dodd has also toured the region extensively in his role as special adviser to the summit, in the process convincing right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro to confirm his attendance. Bolsonaro was a staunch ally of former US President Donald Trump, but he has never spoken to Biden once.
Ironically, the decision to exclude Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela was not just a whim of the United States. During the 2001 summit in Québec, the governments of the region declared that any rupture with the democratic order is an “insurmountable obstacle” to being able 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 point of discussion from the beginning,” said former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Tom Shannon, who has attended several summits in his long diplomatic career. “It is not an imposition from the United States. It was consensual. If the rulers want to change that, then we should have a conversation first.”
After the last summit, held in Peru in 2018 and to which Trump did not even bother to attend, many predicted 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 valued bringing together rulers from vastly different places for a photograph, including aid-dependent Haiti; the industrial powers of Mexico and Brazil, and a Central American region plagued by violence, each with its own challenges and bilateral agenda with Washington.
“As long as we don’t speak with one voice, no one is going to listen to us,” said former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos, who also blames Mexico and Brazil – the two economic powers in the region – for the current drift in relations within the hemisphere. “Perhaps it will be a cacophony of voices, and that, of course, makes our place in the world much 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 disposition went overboard when Trump floated the idea of invading Venezuela to overthrow Nicolás Maduro, a threat that was reminiscent of the worst excesses of the Cold War. Then came the pandemic, with a devastating effect on the inhabitants and economies of a region in which more than 25% of the world’s deaths from COVID-19 were registered, despite the fact that it has only 8% of the world’s population. planet. Latin American policies were disrupted.
Biden’s election generated expectations of a relaunch in relations, after he was Obama’s right-hand man for Latin America and had decades of first-hand experience in the region during the time he was a member of the Committee on Foreign Relations. of the Senate. Popular angst ran rampant during the pandemic, but the Biden administration nonetheless moved slowly to match Russian and Chinese vaccine diplomacy, ultimately distributing 70 million doses across the hemisphere. Biden also maintained the restrictions imposed by the Trump administration on immigration, reinforcing the image that he was neglecting his own neighbors.
Since then, Biden’s signature policy in the region – a $4 billion aid package to address the root causes of migration in Central America – has stalled in Congress, where there are no apparent attempts to revive him. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also caused less attention to be paid to the region, something experts say could backfire on Washington. if rising US interest rates trigger a stampede of capital flight and debt defaults in emerging markets.
There have also been other slights of lesser magnitude: When the leftist Gabriel Boric was elected president of Chile, raising expectations of a generational change among politicians in the region, the US delegation that attended his inauguration was led by Isabel Guzmán , administrator of the Federal Agency for Small Business and penultimate member of the cabinet in terms of rank.
Shannon said that, For the summit to be successful, Biden should not attempt to present a grandiose American vision for the hemisphere, but rather show sensitivity to the region’s rapprochement with other global powers. the concerns about the enormous inequality, and the traditional distrust of Latin Americans towards the United States.
“More than giving speeches, he will need to listen,” Shannon said.
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