For the first time in a long time, the USA is hosting a summit for the countries of North, Central and South America. But the efforts of the US President for the southern neighbors got off to a rocky start.
The meeting among neighbors had not even started when the atmosphere was already in the basement.
At the IX. At the summit of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Los Angeles, which runs until next Friday, the big issues in the region are supposed to be negotiated: migration, climate change, economic recovery after the corona pandemic, cooperation in the health sector.
But the focus has been on a different question for weeks: Who comes to the America summit and who doesn’t? A series of cancellations has given host US President Joe Biden an ugly start to his new Latin America efforts.
Authoritarian states excluded
The invitation list for the summit has been a political issue for weeks. The Biden government wanted only democratically elected heads of state and government to attend the meeting and did not invite the authoritarian countries of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
Presidents of several other states criticized this as American arrogance, declared their solidarity with those excluded and canceled their participation. Other heads of state are staying away for other reasons. In the end, the heads of state and government of Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Bolivia, Uruguay and two small Caribbean countries are missing from the summit.
The cancellation of Mexico’s left-wing nationalist head of state Andrés Manuel López Obrador is particularly painful for the US President. The fact that the president of the country neighboring the USA and the second most populous country in Latin America did not come to the summit is a diplomatic defeat for Biden. Mexico, but also Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are particularly relevant when it comes to the weighty issue of migration, which Biden must bring under control.
Just a few days ago, a high-ranking official in Washington said Biden was keen to have Mexico’s president with him. Now the White House is trying to downplay the boycott: there are different points of view on the American continent and they stand by their own attitude of not inviting dictators.
Guest list outdated
But the invitation debacle cannot be concealed. For weeks, the US government hung around when asked about the invitations, and didn’t even want to officially confirm that Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela had been uninvited. The list of participants was not published until Tuesday, one day after the start of the summit program. And with the number of participating heads of state, the White House, in its distress, also counted host Biden.
“Many Latin American governments perceive Biden’s management of the guest list as an attempt to push the clock into the 1990s or early 2000s Going back years, when Washington was clearly at the head of the regional table,” writes Brian Winter in Americas Quarterly magazine. “But of course those times are over.”
In more and more countries in the region, such as Brazil, Chile and Peru, China has replaced the USA as the most important trading partner. China buys raw materials on a large scale, invests in infrastructure and finances large-scale projects – and does so without imposing onerous conditions on human rights and environmental protection.
Solidarity with dictators in parts of Latin America also shows a certain indifference to democracy. At the America Summit 2001, all countries in the region, with the exception of Cuba, had committed themselves to safeguarding democracy. In the meantime, however, fewer and fewer people in Latin America believe that democracy is the best form of government: According to the opinion research institute Latinobarometro, approval for democracy fell between 2010 and 2020 from 63 percent to 49 percent.
Biden wants to do it differently than Trump
Biden presents himself as a champion of democracies in a showdown with autocracies. And he wants to focus more on Latin America again – after his predecessor Donald Trump was never really interested in the countries in the south.
But Biden’s efforts got off to a rocky start. Mexico’s former foreign minister, Jorge Castañeda, told CNN television: “Biden has to come up with a plan on how he wants to tackle the important issues in Latin America. He has to show that he really wants to take care of the problems in the region and that it’s not only about US politics.”
The corona pandemic has exacerbated many social problems in Latin America, drug smuggling into the USA is causing violence and corruption on transport routes, climate change is leading to natural disasters and droughts. These disruptions are now manifesting themselves in the form of tens of thousands of refugees on the US southern border. This in turn puts pressure on Biden domestically.
Latin America has a lot to offer
In view of the energy and food shortages caused by the war in Ukraine, Latin America also has a lot to offer: Argentina and Brazil are among the largest meat and grain producers in the world, there are huge lithium deposits in the border triangle between Argentina, Chile and Bolivia, and numerous projects are underway in South America for the production of green hydrogen.
The US government has had to put up with uncomfortable questions about why it is so particular about the autocrats in Latin America, while Biden is considering a meeting with the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – despite all the criticism of serious human rights violations there. A government official replied, somewhat strained, that this was a “comparison of apples and oranges”. (dpa)