Biden Summit of the Americas under fire

Mexico City.- Confusion over invitations, an unclear agenda, and growing boycott threats.

The gathering of Western Hemisphere leaders that the United States is hosting next month, which appears poised to showcase a resurgence of American leadership in the region, risks becoming a public relations debacle.

With less than three weeks to go before the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, there are fears that instead of highlighting the Biden administration’s vision for a part of the world that former President Donald Trump largely ignored, the The event could show the diminishing influence of the United States in advancing its agenda in the region.

A growing number of Latin American and Caribbean heads of state, including the presidents of Mexico and Brazil — the region’s two largest countries — are considering not attending, which would be a humiliating snub for the White House.

No formal invitations have been sent out and the White House has said no final decision has been made on who will be invited. But, in some countries, there is already uncertainty about how the summit will address pressing challenges at a time when the region is struggling to recover from the brutal economic downturn caused by the pandemic, rampant inflation, environmental degradation and the dismantling of democratic institutions.

Last month, the State Department sent a 900-word summit memorandum to members of Congress but it contained no specific goals, and preliminary meetings with regional representatives were marked by confusion and the conspicuous absence of migration in the agenda, according to a congressional staffer and a participant.

A spokesman for the National Security Council, which is helping organize the event, said the summit was the Biden administration’s “highest priority event for our hemisphere” and added that formal invitations would be sent soon. Both the council and the State Department declined to comment on the boycott threats.

Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council, Juan Gonzalez, told Americas Quarterly magazine in March that Cuban officials and the presidents of Venezuela and Nicaragua will not be included.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said he will not attend the meeting if the governments of those countries are not invited.

López Obrador’s threat has been repeated by the leftist presidents of Bolivia and Honduras. A group of Caribbean countries have also threatened to boycott the meeting if Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó is invited to represent his nation, instead of President Nicolás Maduro.

The United States recognizes Guaidó as Venezuela’s head of state, despite Maduro’s effective control of the country.

“If it is excluded, if not everyone is invited, a representation of the Mexican government will go, but I would not go,” López Obrador said at a press conference on Tuesday.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro may also not attend the summit, according to several Brazilian government officials. The Brazilian president has had a cool relationship with Washington, and the summit promised to be the first time that Bolsonaro and Biden would speak as presidents.

However, US diplomats said some presidents’ hesitancy was likely intended to appeal to leftist or nationalist voters and may not reflect their final decisions.

Some foreign policy analysts also said planning uncertainty was typical of such regional events, which tend to focus on symbolic appearances rather than concrete solutions.

“Three weeks is an eternity when the United States government sets out to execute something like this summit,” said Dan Restrepo, a fellow at the Center for American Progress, a think tank, and former head of Western Hemisphere affairs at the National Security Council. National.

But the boycott threats show the challenges the Biden administration faces in advancing its interests in the Americas, where the United States has long played an outsized role. Among other issues, the US government is seeking to achieve a meaningful regional agreement on undocumented migration before the midterm elections, according to a person familiar with the planning of the event.

“Latin American governments want to show Washington that it is no longer sitting at the head of the table and that this is a summit of equals, instead of Uncle Sam unilaterally deciding who will be on the guest list,” said Brian Winter, editor of Americas Quarterly magazine, which focuses on US policy in the hemisphere.

After being banned from the first six Summits of the Americas, Cuba was invited to the last two in Panama and Peru.

The Biden administration’s plan to exclude Cuba reflects domestic political pressures, including an attempt to avoid provoking Robert Menendez, a Democratic Cuban-American senator from New Jersey, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a staunch critic of the Cuban government.

“President Biden has made it clear that he is focused on restoring America’s credibility and leadership in the global campaign to counter authoritarian forces,” Menendez said in an email. “The president is keeping that promise.”

The possible absence of López Obrador from the summit would make it more difficult to achieve a viable migration agreement.

Mexico is the largest source of migrants heading to the United States, and the country’s government has worked with Washington to stem the flow of other citizens traveling to the US border after passing through Central America.

“If you have a Summit of the Americas without the presidents of Mexico and Brazil, it makes almost no sense,” said Jorge Castañeda, a former Mexican foreign minister who is now a professor of international relations at New York University. “It would be a failed summit.”

Bolsonaro’s absence could derail any meaningful progress on two other important foreign policy goals of the Biden administration: climate change and defending democracy.

And the prolonged silence between Biden and Bolsonaro has increased tensions in diplomatic relations.

During the Biden presidency, Bolsonaro brought his country closer to Russia, extended policies that have deforested the Amazon, and questioned the integrity of his own country’s elections. US officials have privately pushed for political change and have at times publicly criticized Bolsonaro.

The most pressing issue is Brazil’s presidential election in October. The Biden administration is concerned that, after months of questioning Brazil’s voting systems, Bolsonaro could challenge the results if he loses.

At the summit, US and other officials could try to pressure Bolsonaro to respect the democratic process and publicly express his own support for Brazil’s electoral systems.

But now it appears Bolsonaro will not travel to Los Angeles and the summit has been dropped from his agenda, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because that decision has yet to be announced.

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