President Joe Biden kicks off a summit on Wednesday that was conceived as a platform to showcase U.S. leadership in reviving Latin American economies and tackling migratory pressures but has instead been undermined by discord over the guest list.
Biden’s plan to unveil a package to spur recovery in Latin America, help stem immigration and counter China’s growing regional economic clout has been marred by a partial boycott by leaders upset at Washington’s decision to exclude Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua from the summit.
U.S. officials hope the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles and a parallel gathering of top business executives can pave the way for greater economic cooperation as regional nations grappling with higher inflation work to bring supply chains stretched by the Covid-19 pandemic closer to home.
“It’s much better for us … to have a supply chain here in the Americas than it is for us to be dependent on a supply chain that comes from China,” US ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar told Reuters at the summit.
Seeking to present alternatives to China, US officials said Biden would unveil an ‘Americas Partnership’ on Wednesday to speed pandemic recovery by building on existing trade deals.
The plan would aim to mobilize investments, reinvigorate the Inter-American Development Bank, create clean energy jobs, strengthen supply chains and promote “sustainable and inclusive trade” in the region, one administration official said.
Still, an initiative that promotes jobs abroad could face U.S. protectionist pushback, as well as questions about how many widely divergent economies could make it work.
The Biden administration also announced steps to boost health security in the Americas, such as plans to train 500,000 public health and medical professionals within five years.
It has framed the summit as an opportunity for the United States to reaffirm its commitment to Latin America after years of comparative neglect under Biden’s Republican predecessor Donald Trump.
But tensions have repeatedly dogged the preparations.
Diplomatic cracks yawned wide this week when Washington opted not to invite Communist-run Cuba and the leftist governments of Venezuela and Nicaragua, arguing their record on human rights and democracy made it impossible.
Rebuffed in his demand that all countries must be invited, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he would stay away, deflecting attention away from Biden’s goals and toward regional divisions.
Cuban President Miguel Diaz Canel, in a televised speech Wednesday morning, said the United States lacked “moral authority” to lecture on democracy at the summit, and thanked Lopez Obrador for his “solidarity.”
“The United States has the capacity to prevent the presence of Cuba in Los Angeles,” Diaz Canel said. “But it does not have the power to silence our voice, nor to silence the truth.”
The leaders of Guatemala and Honduras, two of the countries that send most migrants to the United States, also said they would not go, undermining efforts by Biden officials to craft a “declaration” on joint plans to address the phenomenon.
Still, leaders from more than 20 countries in the region will attend, including Canada, Brazil and Argentina, organizers said.
Biden, in what is being billed as a policy speech to open the summit, will preview the migration declaration to be announced on Friday. Officials say it will include specific commitments from leaders to help address the challenge.
Detentions of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border have hit record levels this year, and on Monday another caravan of people numbering thousands set off north from southern Mexico.