The White House on Monday excluded Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua from the US-hosted Summit of the Americas this week, prompting the Mexican president to follow through on his threat to skip the event because all countries in the Western Hemisphere were not invited.
A boycott by Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and some other leaders could diminish the relevance of the Los Angeles summit, where the United States aims to address regional economic and migration challenges. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, hopes to repair damaged Latin American relations under his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, reassert American influence and counter Chinese incursions.
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The decision to exclude Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua followed weeks of intense deliberations and was due to concerns about human rights and a lack of democracy in the three countries, a senior US official said. .
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the Biden administration “understands” Mexico’s position, but “one of the key elements of this summit is democratic governance, and these countries are not not examples, to say the least”.
Biden’s aides have been aware of pressure from Republicans and some fellow Democrats against appearing soft on America’s three main leftist antagonists in Latin America. Miami’s large Cuban-American community, which has favored Trump’s tough policies toward Cuba and Venezuela, is seen as an important electoral bloc in Florida in the November elections that will decide control of the US Congress, which is now between the hands of the Democrats.
Lopez Obrador told reporters that his foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, would attend the summit in his place. The Mexican president has said he will meet Biden in Washington next month, which the White House has confirmed.
“There cannot be a Summit of the Americas if all the countries of the American continent do not participate,” said Lopez Obrador.
Lopez Obrador’s absence from the rally, which Biden is due to open on Wednesday, raises questions about summit talks focused on limiting migration to the US southern border, a priority for Biden, and could be a diplomatic embarrassment. for the United States.
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A caravan of several thousand migrants, many from Venezuela, set out from southern Mexico early Monday with the aim of reaching the United States.
But a senior administration official insisted Lopez Obrador’s no-show would not hamper Biden’s rollout of a regional migration initiative. The White House expects at least 23 heads of state and government, which the official said would be in line with previous summits.
US Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat and chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, criticized the Mexican president, saying his “decision to stand with dictators and despots” would hurt US-Mexican relations.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing populist and Trump admirer who leads Latin America’s most populous country, will attend after initially flirting with staying away.
The exclusion of Venezuela and Nicaragua had been reported in recent weeks. Communist-led President Miguel Diaz-Canel of Cuba said last month he would not go even if invited, accusing the United States of “brutal pressure” to make the summit non-inclusive.
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On Monday, Cuba called the decision “discriminatory and unacceptable” and said the United States had underestimated support in the region for the island nation.
The United States invited Cuban civil society activists to attend, but several said on social media that Cuban state security prevented them from traveling to Los Angeles.
After excluding Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the Biden administration expects representatives of opposition leader Juan Guaido to attend, Price said. He declined to say whether their participation would be in person or virtually.
The senior administration official, who asked if Biden might have a call with Guaido during the summit, said there was a good chance of an “engagement” but declined to elaborate.
Washington recognizes Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president, after condemning Maduro’s 2018 re-election as a sham. But some countries in the region have remained loyal to Maduro.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla who won a fourth consecutive term in November after jailing his rivals, is also barred from the summit.
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Most leaders have signaled they will participate, but the pushback from left-leaning governments suggests that many in Latin America are no longer willing to follow Washington’s lead as in the past.
Faced with low expectations for the summit’s achievements, US officials have begun previewing Biden’s upcoming initiatives. These include a “Partnership of the Americas” for pandemic recovery, which would involve investment and supply chain strengthening, reform of the Inter-American Development Bank, and a $300 million commitment for the regional food security.
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