Biden’s ‘Summit of the Americas’ Had Trouble Before It Started

US President Joe Biden in Rehoboth Beach, June 3, 2022 (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Archives)

It starts Monday and there is still no guest list: The “Summit of the Americas”, hosted by Joe Biden, which would usher in a new era in the United States’ relations with Latin America, is already full of bumps.

Leaders from across the region are expected to begin a week of talks in Los Angeles starting Monday. Washington wants to flex its muscles against China, which is advancing its pawns in an area long considered by the Americans to be their backyard.

But the White House has still not released a guest list, hoping to defuse a crisis with Mexican President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Boycott

The latter did not threaten to come if all Latin American countries were invited without exception, including those that the United States does not want to hear about: Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Joe Biden, a self-proclaimed champion of democracy around the world, did not want authoritarian regimes among his guests.

His chief adviser to Latin America, Juan Gonzalez, told the press the Democratic president intended to promote “a vision of a safe” and “democratic” region, which is “essentially in the strategic interest of the United States.” .

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on May 22, 2022 in Guatemala
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on May 22, 2022 in Guatemala (Johan ORDONEZ / AFP/Archive)

Joe Biden will make announcements about economic cooperation and the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change, he said.

The president also hopes to reach a regional cooperation agreement on a politically explosive topic that has brought him fierce criticism from the Republican opposition: immigration.

The number of people seeking to enter the United States after fleeing poverty and violence in Central America and Haiti is increasing.

The Biden administration has so far failed to deliver on its promise to pursue a revamped immigration policy, which it aims to make more humane than that of Trump’s mandate.

American decline

Washington has secured the arrival of some major leaders, both center-left Argentine President Alberto Fernandez and far-right Brazilian head of state Jair Bolsonaro.

But if the Mexican president didn’t come, that would be “a significant absence,” said Benjamin Gedan, who leads Latin American studies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

His boycott threat caused “a really unwelcome turn of events leading up to the summit, as it took a tremendous amount of US diplomatic energy,” he notes.

The researcher also notes that, while China is investing heavily in the region, the US president has so far not announced any substantial economic efforts.

Brazilian Presidents Jair Bolsonaro and Argentine President Alberto Fernandez at the G20 summit in Rome, October 30, 2021
Brazilian Presidents Jair Bolsonaro and Argentine President Alberto Fernandez at the G20 summit in Rome, October 30, 2021 (Esteban COLLAZO / Argentine Presidency/AFP/Archive)

“The summit will have to be judged by the yardstick of the United States’ proposals on commercial access, loans and aid to finance recovery and infrastructure in the region,” said Benjamin Gedan. “And on these points the United States will disappoint, it is inevitable,” he says.

The Lost Attraction of Free Trade

The Summit of the Americas was launched in Miami in 1994 by President Bill Clinton, who wanted to launch a comprehensive regional trade liberalization agreement.

But free trade is no longer on the rise, either in the United States or elsewhere, and in this regard Joe Biden has not fundamentally broken with the protectionist reflexes of his predecessor Donald Trump.

Eric Farnsworth, vice chairman of the Council of the Americas (“Council of the Americas”, an organization that promotes commercial exchanges on the scale of the Americas), recently estimated during a parliamentary hearing that every edition of the Summit of the Americas “less ambitious” than the previous one.

Michael Shifter, researcher at Inter-American Dialogue, sees the controversy over the guest list as a sign of dwindling American influence. Especially since the political difficulties of Joe Biden, who is unpopular and who threatens to lose control of Congress after this fall’s election, has not escaped the region’s leaders.

The United States “still has a lot of + soft power +”, he notes, that is, impact in terms of cultural content or consumption habits. But their “political and diplomatic influence is diminishing every day”.

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