Several Caribbean leaders have taken the same position and more are expected from South and Central America. The involvement of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, according to an emailed statement from his office on Wednesday, is “currently under evaluation and has not yet been confirmed. “
The Summit of the Americas, which takes place every three years in a different country, is the main hemispheric bonding event. The June 6-10 Los Angeles meeting will be the first hosted by the United States since President Bill Clinton held the inaugural session in Miami in 1994.
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For the administration, the event is designed to promote democracy, address common economic problems and reverse a widespread perception in the region of US disinterest in its existence beyond stopping illegal immigration, drug smuggling and Chinese influence.
Mexican governments have traditionally maintained warm relations with Cuba, in part to demonstrate their independence from the United States. López Obrador, who visited Cuba last week and reiterated his strong condemnation of the US trade embargo on the island, has made no secret of his affection for the Cuban government.
But even for many in Latin America who have not lost their love for the three undemocratic regimes, the summit has become yet another reminder of what they see as US arrogance when it comes to the hemisphere.
Repeated hints in recent months that the three governments would be excluded have prompted the administration’s repeated insistence that no decisions have been made and no invitations have yet been issued. But his intentions seemed to have been revealed last week, when Brian A. Nichols, the assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, was asked in an interview on Colombian television if Cuba, Nicaragua and the Venezuelan government of President Nicolás Maduro would be guests.
“No,” Nichols answered succinctly. “That decision is up to the president,” she added in Spanish. “But I think the president has been perfectly clear that … countries that, by their own actions, do not respect democracy are not going to receive invitations.”
On Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki and State Department spokesman Ned Price repeated the “no decision” formula.
“President Biden hopes that all the democratically elected leaders of the hemisphere will join him in honoring the collective responsibility to forge a more inclusive and prosperous future. The decision to participate in the summit is, of course, the decision of each invited country,” a White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity under ground rules established by the administration, said Wednesday.
Biden’s public indecisiveness has prompted an avalanche of comment from both sides of the issue.
Sens. Robert Menendez (DN.J.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the powerful chairman and ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, among others, have made clear their opposition to allowing three attend. “This is like inviting the fox to the henhouse,” Menendez told the Hill. “The Summit is an opportunity for democracies, not authoritarian thugs” to promote “our prosperity and shared democratic values.”
López Obrador said Tuesday that he raised the issue in his April 29 phone conversation with Biden. “I raised this with Biden and he told me that he was going to analyze the situation,” said the Mexican president. “How can you have a Summit of the Americas without all the countries of the Americas? Where do these uninvited come from? Another country? Another galaxy? An unknown planet?
López Obrador is Mexico’s strongest president in decades. Some say that he is too strong.
Ambassador Ronald Sanders of Antigua and Barbuda, former coordinator of CARICOM, the 20-nation Caribbean community, said in an interview that “CARICOM countries are of the opinion that the Summit of the Americas is not a summit of the United States, which is not. It is a summit of all the countries of the Americas, of which the United States is only one.
“The organization of the summit gives you the right to decide who should or should not represent the countries of the Americas? … Many have come to the conclusion that … everyone should be there. That must include Cuba.”
It cannot include Juan Guaidó, according to Sanders and others. The former head of the Venezuelan legislative assembly, Guaidó, was recognized by the Trump administration in January 2019 as the legitimate president of Venezuela. That policy has been continued by Biden, along with sanctions against Maduro, even as many countries in the region that once supported Guaidó now see him as irrelevant.
Disagreement over Cuba’s exclusion dominated summits for decades, until the deadlock was broken at the Panama meeting in 2015, when then-President Raúl Castro attended and met with his US counterpart, President Barack Obama, while the two countries were preparing to reestablish diplomatic relations. . Maduro and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega were also there.
Maduro and Ortega also attended the last summit, in 2018 in Lima, Peru, where Cuba sent its foreign minister. The most controversial pending issue there was President Donald Trump, who was deeply unpopular in the region. But conflict was largely averted when Trump became the first US president in the history of the meetings not to show up.
Biden’s continuation of Trump’s Cuba and Venezuela policies, despite campaign promises to take a different tack, especially with Cuba, has not gone unnoticed in the region. Neither has his administration’s recent outreach to both countries to help resolve administrative problems.
“When the Biden administration wanted to talk to Venezuela about the possibility of exporting more oil” to make up for the shortage due to the sanctions against Russia in March, “it was Maduro in Caracas who they went to talk to, and not Juan Guaidó.” Sanders said. “It is clearly obvious, Juan Guaidó is not in a position to deliver anything in relation to Venezuela”, and “not everyone wants to participate in this farce”.
More recently, when tens of thousands of Cubans joined those trying to enter the United States across the border with Mexico, the administration last month overcame its refusal to talk to the Cuban government, inviting it to talk about immigration deals.
Mary Beth Sheridan in Washington contributed to this report.