The annual Summit of the Americas is scheduled to kick off tomorrow in Los Angeles. Or at least it was scheduled, but now it’s hard to say who might be showing up for the conference. What should have been a fairly routine affair where matters of trade and border security could be discussed is now up in the air. The White House waited until Sunday to announce a final decision that Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela would not be invited to participate. This was met with immediate objections from Mexico, with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) suggesting they could boycott the conference if all nations from our two continents are not allowed to take part. A resolution was not reached and Mexico announced that they will boycott the event, making this a total embarrassment for the White House. (Reuters)
The Biden administration has made a final decision to exclude the governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua from the Summit of the Americas, people familiar with the matter said, despite threats from Mexico’s president to skip the gathering unless all countries in the Western Hemisphere were invited.
The decision, which followed weeks of intense deliberations, risks an embarrassing boycott of the U.S.-hosted gathering this week in Los Angeles if Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and some other leaders choose not to show up.
U.S. officials determined that concerns about human rights and lack of democracy in the three countries, Washington’s main antagonists in Latin America, weighed too heavily against inviting them, a Washington-based source said late on Sunday.
Having Mexico walk away from this is a pretty big deal. The summit involves (or at least was supposed to involve) all of the countries in North and South America, but our two biggest trading and security partners are Mexico and Canada, so Mexico’s absence will be glaring. Others may decide to follow their example at the last minute, leaving even more empty seats.
I completely understand the impulse to not honor those three countries in this fashion. They all have oppressive, corrupt governments and contribute greatly to the flow of both illegal migrants and narcotics throughout the western hemisphere.
The situation with Cuba had already broken down long before this. Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel said last month that he would not attend even if he was invited. But there were alternate plans under discussion that would involve sending a lower-ranking official in his place. Those plans are now apparently being scrapped also.
But with all of that said, we sit down for diplomatic meetings with countries we don’t get along with all of the time. Sometimes you have to make those sorts of compromises in the interest of larger goals. It’s also worth pointing out that Biden’s exclusion list was pretty specific and demonstrates some inconsistency in his foreign policy. While those three countries are obviously all problematic in their own ways, why was only Nicaragua banned when the entire Northern Triangle is rife with corruption and illegal trafficking? There are several other South American countries we could describe in a similar fashion.
Any agreements that are eventually reached during the summit will have an asterisk next to them without full participation, particularly if Mexico hasn’t signed on. So are we witnessing yet another significant stumble by the Biden administration here? One of the biggest concerns expressed during Biden’s presidential run involved his awful history when it comes to foreign policy. He has a terrible track record in that area. And now, an annual event that is supposed to foster cooperation and alignment (where possible) in the western hemisphere is being shot full of holes because the White House was unwilling or unable to negotiate the nuances of delivering a summit that has happened routinely during other administrations.