Mexico’s snub plunges the top of the Americas into disarray » Capital News


US President Joe Biden will welcome Latin American leaders to Los Angeles in a bid to reinvigorate US engagement in the region © AFP/File/MANDEL NGAN

Los Angeles (AFP), June 6 – President Joe Biden’s plan to reinvigorate US engagement with Latin America — especially on critical topics like migration — took a hit after key partner Mexico snubbed a regional summit s opening Monday in Los Angeles to protest Washington’s exclusion of three far-left countries.

What was meant to be a week-long showcase of cooperation risks becoming a show of division, underscoring diminishing US influence over a region where Washington’s longstanding economic and diplomatic influence faces a Chinese challenge. increasing.

A senior White House official confirmed that Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela were excluded from the Summit of the Americas due to the “lack of democratic space and the human rights situation”.

In response, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he would also stay away.

“You cannot have a Summit of the Americas if all the countries of the Americas are not present”, announced Lopez Obrador, complaining of American “hegemony” and “lack of respect for nations”.

Although Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard will represent Mexico instead, the absence of the left-wing populist leader will diminish the impact of a summit where US-Mexico relations are at the heart of major immigration and trade issues. .

The White House played down the spat, saying Biden was standing for principle, but there was no bad blood between the neighbors.

“We don’t think dictators should be invited,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.

However, she noted that Lopez Obrador was due to travel to Washington in July and said Biden was not caught off guard. “He was aware” before the announcement of the Mexican president.

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In Havana, Cuba’s communist government issued a statement calling his exclusion “undemocratic and arbitrary”.

Biden, who flies to Los Angeles on Wednesday, will announce many “deliverables” at the summit, Jean-Pierre said.

Wednesday’s agenda will focus on regional economic and health issues, followed by climate change on Thursday.

Friday will be devoted to the wave of migration to the United States – a major concern for American voters and an area where Republican opponents see Biden as vulnerable in the upcoming midterm elections.

As the summit began, another migrant caravan numbering several thousand left southern Mexico for the US border, some chanting “Freedom! » and « We want visas! as they began the 3,000 kilometer (1,860 mile) journey.

– Argentina, Brazil introduce themselves –

State Department spokesman Ned Price insisted Lopez Obrador’s absence did not doom the summit, praising Mexico as “an important player in the hemisphere.”

The Biden administration also notes that it has secured the presence of other key regional players, including leftist Argentinean Alberto Fernandez and Brazilian Jair Bolsonaro.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has said he will stay away from a regional summit in Los Angeles to protest the exclusion of three far-left countries © AFP / PEDRO PARDO

Biden will have a bilateral meeting with Bolsonaro, a senior US official told reporters. The far-right Brazilian leader was previously close to Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump, who tried to reverse his 2020 election defeat.

Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou was due to attend the summit but canceled it after contracting Covid-19, he tweeted on Monday.

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Benjamin Gedan, who directs the Latin America program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said Lopez Obrador’s absence would mark a “significant void”.

The snub was “a really unfortunate subplot as the summit approached, as it drained an enormous amount of American diplomatic energy for a bizarre cause celebre,” Gedan said.

Biden has crafted a positive agenda, simply avoiding summoning Latin American leaders to lecture them about democracy, corruption and China, he said.

But, he added, it was unclear whether Biden will bring substantial resources to the table, unlike China’s lavish infrastructure spending and trade privileges.

“I think the United States will inevitably disappoint,” Gedan said.

– ‘Gradually less ambitious’ –

The Summit of the Americas is the first hosted by the United States since the inaugural meeting in Miami in 1994, where then-US President Bill Clinton called for the creation of a trade zone to cover the entire continent at the exception of communist Cuba.

Argentinian President Alberto Fernandez (right) and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, seen at a G20 summit in Rome in October 2021, will both attend the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles © Argentinian Presidency/AFP/Dossier/Esteban COLLAZO

The United States has since soured on free trade, with Biden following the lead of Trump, who said such pacts hurt American workers.

Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas, recently told a congressional hearing that each summit has become “gradually less ambitious.”

Los Angeles, he said, “provides the perfect opportunity for Washington to announce a commitment to regional growth and recovery.”

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Michael Shifter, senior fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue, said the drama over summit attendance showed Washington’s waning grip on the region as China escalated.

The United States “still has a lot of soft power,” Shifter said. “As for political and diplomatic influence, it is diminishing day by day.”

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