Before the Summit of the Americas occurred in Los Angeles from June 6-10, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price stated that the U.S. “understands” Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s decision to not attend. López Obrador objected to the U.S.’s decision not to invite Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, choosing to send Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard to the summit in a move of protest. According to a senior U.S. official, the exclusion of Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela is due to concerns about the lack of democracy and human rights in those countries. The summit included the signing of the Los Angeles Declaration, an agreement with 20 nations that sets commitments for the number of refugees each nation would take in, and included a U.S. pledge to increase the number of seasonal worker visas from Latin America and Haiti to 11,500.
“This summit is the hemisphere’s premier regional cooperation conference. It’s where you show this united front to tackle these common issues. So it’s quite a snub for Mexico not to be there,” explained NPR’s Mexico City correspondent Carrie Kahn. The 10-country Latin American and Caribbean ALBA bloc, which includes Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, issued a statement claiming that they “reject the exclusions and discriminatory treatment at the so-called Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles.”
President Biden took time during the summit to speak to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro about the strategic importance of their nations’ relationship. Bolsonaro has been accused by Human Rights Watch of attacking democratic norms because of his claims of election fraud and statement that he would not abide by Supreme Court decisions made by Justice Alexandre de Moraes. Biden’s decision to not invite authoritarian nations to the summit was a correct choice that displays his commitment to upholding global democracy; however, he should have gone further and prohibited Bolsonaro from attending due to his undemocratic actions. While this move would have further decreased the pan-Americanism of the summit, it signals to the region that leaders who disregard democratic institutions will not be recognized diplomatically. Additionally, Biden should have invited Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido to the summit and reaffirmed the U.S.’s commitment to upholding his legitimacy as President of the National Assembly instead of only meeting with him virtually. These actions would likely offend some nations in the summit, which should be ignored in favor of promoting unity of adherence to democratic principles and international cooperation, not simply unity based on geographic closeness, among American nations.
The Summit of the Americas was first held in Miami in 1994 with the goal, according to the State Department, “to promote economic growth and prosperity throughout the Americas based on shared democratic values.” The summit had included controversies in the past, such as a 2005 protest by Argentine soccer player Diego Maradona against the U.S. invasion of Iraq and a 2009 incident when then Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez handed U.S. President Barack Obama a book about the history of imperialism. The 2018 summit occurred in Lima, Peru, and included Cuba (who attended its first summit in 2015) and Nicaragua, while Venezuelan President Maduro was banned due to his decision to hold presidential elections early and ban opposition parties. Cuba’s and Nicaragua’s exclusion comes as Cuba recently introduced a penal code that punishes dissent more harshly and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega won a fourth term in an election marked by the jailing of opponents.
Refusing to invite authoritarian nations to the Americas summit displays the seriousness with which Biden takes global democracy. He should have taken further steps to showcase this commitment during the summit by refusing to meet with Bolsonaro and by inviting Guaido. The U.S. should avoid participating in any future diplomatic summits that include authoritarian nations and instead focus on forming a democratic coalition in the Americas and throughout the world.