Jun 9, 2022 - World

Summit of the Americas underscores regional divides

President Biden speaks at the Summit of the Americas today. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
President Biden speaks at the Summit of the Americas today. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

This week's Summit of the Americas was never going to be exhibit A for international cooperation. Even if the region was a top priority for President Biden (it isn't), he doesn't have all that many natural partners to work with.

Driving the news: Much of the focus this week has been on who's not in Los Angeles for the first regional summit since 2018, and the first in the U.S. since 1994.

  • The authoritarian leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela weren't invited, leading to a boycott from Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and fellow leftist leaders from Bolivia and Honduras.
  • Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei and Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele are also skipping. Both have sparred with the Biden administration over corruption, and Bukele declined a call from Secretary of State Tony Blinken ahead of the summit, per the NYT.
    • The absences of all three Northern Triangle leaders undermines the Biden administration's focus this week on the work led by Vice President Harris on the root causes of migration.
  • Juan Guaidó, the Venezuelan opposition leader recognized by Washington as the country's legitimate interim president, also wasn't invited to LA, though he did get a call from Biden.

Between the lines: The Biden administration has tried to downplay the boycotts and stressed that inviting dictators would undermine previous regional commitments to democracy.

  • Still, the snubs are an overt challenge to the authority of the regional hegemon.

Biden still doesn't have many ideological allies among those who are in Los Angeles, apart from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

  • U.S.-friendly Colombian President Iván Duque was seated alongside Biden as the summit opened, but he's on the way out the door and the race to replace him is down to candidates from the hard left and the populist right.
  • Biden had to offer Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro a meeting to get him to come. It's unlikely either will enjoy it.
  • South American politics have been shifting to the left, and the presidents of Argentina, Chile and Peru have all railed against "neoliberalism," a byword for U.S. ideological influence in the region. Biden did appeal to progressives in his opening speech, though, winning applause by rebuking "trickle-down economics."

There are a handful of leaders who do want deeper relations with the U.S., but feel they aren't getting it.

  • Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso raised his desire for a free trade deal with the U.S. in remarks at a business event on the sidelines of the summit. He's unlikely to get one from Biden, who has spurned any such agreements. Instead, Lasso is currently negotiating one with Beijing.
  • Pressed by the BBC ahead of the summit on his own moves to deepen trade ties with China, Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou said, "I put my eggs where I can." He said U.S. officials "don't have a view of Latin America" — or at least one that applies to countries like his.

Still, there are major shared challenges across the region on issues like economic recovery, climate and migration, and the White House has prepared a series of announcements to be rolled out Thursday and Friday.

  • One is the “Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity,” a still-in-progress framework to enhance cooperation in areas like supply chains and clean energy.
  • A senior administration official told reporters that "our most like-minded economic partners" will be invited to join. The official didn't name any countries in particular.

What's next: In his remarks Thursday evening, Biden said he'd be putting forward proposals that are "a far cry" from what Donald Trump offered the region. Those include a regional plan for migration, to be unveiled tomorrow.

Go deeper: U.S. pledges $331M as Russia blockade worsens food crisis in the Americas

Go deeper