A growing number of countries are threatening to snub the US-hosted Summit of the Americas next month amid controversy over its guest list.
The summit, hosted this year by the administration of US President Joe Biden, aimed to bring leaders from across the Americas to Los Angeles to discuss common policy issues. As the host country, the United States has the right to establish its guest list.
In April, US Under Secretary of State Brian Nichols told reporters that authoritarian Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela were unlikely to be invited. The high-level conference would instead focus on democracies in the Western Hemisphere, Nichols said.
While White House officials stress that the guest list is not yet finalized, even democratically elected leaders in the region are now warning that they will not attend the summit unless all countries are invited.
Notably, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of neighboring Mexico said that if other countries in the Americas were excluded, he would stay home out of solidarity. “If they are excluded, if not all are invited, a representative of the Mexican government will go, but I would not,” Lopez Obrador said during his regular press conference last Tuesday.
Lopez Obrador’s threats seem to have caused Washington to reconsider its position.
On Monday, Lopez Obrador said Mexico was “in dialogue” with the United States.
“At least they [United States] acted in a respectful manner, there was no outright and blunt rejection,” he said.
The Summit of the Americas has been held every three years since 1994 – an opportunity for the United States to shape policy and solidify partnerships in the region.
Cuba was left out until 2015, when then-US President Barack Obama appeared to close a Cold War chapter, sitting down with Cuban leader Raul Castro in Panama. The island returned to the conference in 2018 – although the reception was much colder from the then Trump administration, with then US Vice President Mike Pence criticizing its “ tired communist regime” and withdrawing during the rebuttal of the Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Cuba, so far largely frozen by the current administration, is seeking an opportunity to directly protest Biden’s increased US sanctions. Excluding the communist-ruled island entirely this year — along with allies Nicaragua and Venezuela — would be a pointed message from the Biden administration.
The United States has good reason to exclude certain governments, says former American diplomat Eric Farnsworth, who worked at the inaugural Summit of the Americas in Miami in 1994. “This particular forum is expressly reserved for democratic leaders and it is what the Biden administration is grappling with. “, he told CNN.
The United States considers the elections of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro – who is the subject of a US indictment for drug trafficking – and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega as illegitimate.
However, the absence of the Mexican Lopez Obrador would be a blow given the border and the common interests of the United States and Mexico. “The president of Mexico is a critical player obviously in terms of relations with the United States, but also in terms of the issues that the United States wants to discuss at the Los Angeles summit, mainly migration,” Farnsworth said.
Beyond Mexico, potential no-shows include leftist leaders from Bolivia and Honduras. “If we are not all nations, this is not the Summit of the Americas. The most worthy study of an American is America,” Xiomara Castro, president of Honduras, wrote on her Twitter.
Guatemala’s president has already said he will not go, after the United States imposed sanctions on the country’s attorney general.
And geopolitical heavyweight Brazil would be on the fence. According to Reuters, a spokesman for Brazil’s foreign ministry said no decision had yet been made on President Jair Bolsonaro’s participation. “The presence of the president is under consideration and is not confirmed,” the official told the news agency. Bolsonaro and Biden have never spoken to each other.
In tweets last week, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez accused the United States of excluding his country and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Carlos Faria praised the Mexican president’s intervention.
Meanwhile, Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega has said he won’t go even if the red carpet is rolled out.
“We’re not interested in being at that summit,” he said, adding that the conference was now “dirty, muddy.”