Having covered virtually every summit in the Americas since the first meeting of heads of state of the hemisphere in Miami in 1994, I can say with some confidence that the one scheduled for this week in Los Angeles will be one of the most poorly organized and less ambitious. already.
To be fair, President Biden, who is hosting the June 6-10 summit, has recently had more pressing priorities. He successfully brought together the largest pro-democracy alliance in the world since World War II to confront Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and he deserves all the credit.
And, admittedly, Republican critics of Biden have no moral authority to criticize the president for his lack of attention to Latin America. US neglect of the region was even worse under former President Trump, who routinely called Latino migrants criminals, and was the only US president to skip an Americas summit.
But, that said, the Biden administration deserves criticism for failing to set an ambitious agenda for this meeting, which offers a rare opportunity to improve U.S.-Latin American relations. This summit only takes place every three or four years and is the only regional meeting of the leaders of the United States and Canada.
At the first of these summits in 1994, the Clinton administration and Latin American countries agreed to create a Free Trade Area of the Americas, meant to stretch from Alaska to Patagonia. The plan was rejected by South American countries years later, and the United States turned its attention to its Asian trading partners.
Subsequent summits produced tangible results, such as the Inter-American Democratic Charter of 2001, which authorizes diplomatic sanctions against countries that violate democratic rule.
But there are no known ambitious plans for this summit. And three days before the start of the meeting, it was not even clear which heads of state will be present.
Much of the blame lies with populist Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who effectively torpedoed the summit weeks in advance by declaring he would not attend unless Biden invited Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. The Biden administration rightly decided not to invite any of the leaders of these countries.
Mexico and other countries have also asked not to invite Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, whom the United States and many other countries recognize as Venezuela’s interim leader. Most likely, Guaidó will have a video call with Biden during the summit, according to sources familiar with the summit negotiations.
But the Biden administration deserves criticism for allowing Lopez Obrador to hijack the summit’s agenda and make the presence of Cuban, Venezuelan and Nicaraguan dictators the central theme of the meeting. This could not have happened if there was a bold US economic proposal on the agenda that would have captured the interest of most countries.
The White House is obsessed with bringing Lopez Obrador to the table because his top priority at the summit will be signing a migration document that will help stem the flow of undocumented migrants to the US border ahead of the election. November midterm in the United States.
It helps explain why the Biden administration has gone out of its way to please the Mexican president and eased some U.S. sanctions against Cuba and Venezuela in recent weeks, according to Latin American officials.
But Biden’s special adviser for the summit, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, the former congresswoman from Miami, told me the summit is likely to yield several meaningful deals.
They will include an agreement on migration to help countries deal humanely with the influx of millions of refugees from Venezuela and other countries, with the help of resources from the World Bank and regional financial institutions, he said. she declared.
There will also likely be a joint statement on health security to better tackle COVID-19 and future pandemics, climate, energy and possibly trade proposals to modernize existing free trade agreements. “The economic agenda is quite important,” Mucarsel-Powell told me.
But Mucarsel-Powell acknowledged that there will be no final declaration at the summit, as in many past hemispheric meetings, but rather separate documents on specific issues.
“This summit will be a launchpad for a two-year implementation period,” she told me. “If we can implement the documents that will be agreed upon, it will be the most successful summit we have had to date.”
Yet I fear that – barring any last-minute surprises – the meeting will be a huge missed opportunity, both for the United States and for Latin America.
Latin America is experiencing a severe economic crisis, with rising poverty rates and falling investment. The region could be in an ideal position to benefit from the growing regionalization of world trade and the increased tendency to trade with friendly countries that economists call “friendshoring”.
The Summit of the Americas could be an ideal setting to launch an ambitious inter-American plan to transfer certain American factories from China to Latin America. This would drive massive investment in Latin America and help the United States address its supply chain disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
In addition, Latin America and the United States could benefit from the revival of former President Obama’s 100.00 Strong in the Americas program, which sought to dramatically increase the number of college student exchanges. The program was allowed to fizzle during the Trump administration.
According to a shocking statistic from the Institute for International Education’s Open Doors study, the three Latin American countries with the most students in American colleges – Mexico, Brazil and Colombia – account for just 3 .7% of all international students in US colleges. The vast majority of foreign students at American universities come from China, India and South Korea.
Meanwhile, the number of international students in China has doubled, and China recently offered 5,000 scholarships to Latin American students. For a growing number of young Latin Americans wishing to study abroad, China is the most affordable alternative.
Unfortunately, instead of talking about “near-shoring”, reorganizing educational exchanges and other key issues for the prosperity of the hemisphere, the discussion around the summit focuses on the totally insignificant question of whether three decrepit dictators should be invited. Leaders in the region should put this nonsense aside and focus on trade and investment that could help reduce poverty and migration.
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