LOS ANGELES (AFP) – President Joe Biden tried to present a unified vision of the Western Hemisphere on Thursday, but the Summit of the Americas quickly turned into open disagreement in a clear illustration of the difficulties of bringing North and South America together around shared goals on immigration, the economy and climate.
“There is no reason why the Western Hemisphere cannot be the most forward-looking, democratic, prosperous, peaceful and secure region in the world,” Biden said at the start of the summit. “We have unlimited potential.”
In the wake of Biden’s remarks, Blaise Prime Minister John Briceno publicly objected to the countries being excluded from the summit by the United States and to the continued US embargo on Cuba.
“This summit belongs to all of the Americas – so it is inexcusable that there are countries in the Americas that are not here, and the strength of the summit is diminished by its absence,” Briceno said. “At this most critical juncture, when the future of the hemisphere is at stake, we stand divided. That is why the Summit of the Americas should have been inclusive. Geography, not politics, is what defines the Americas.”
Biden faced additional criticism from Argentine President Alberto Fernandez.
“We certainly would have liked a different summit for the Americas,” Fernandez said in Spanish. “The silence of the absent is calling us. So that this does not happen again, I would say, for the future, the fact that the country is the host country of the summit does not have the power to impose the right of acceptance on the member states of the continent.”
Disparities in wealth, governance, and national interests make it difficult for Biden to replicate the partnerships he has forged in Asia and Europe. That had already created low expectations at the summit hosted by the United States for the first time since 1994.
With diplomatic efforts strained by summit boycotts and legislative proposals stranded in a polarized Congress, Biden has focused on trying to persuade businesses and the private sector to support his efforts. However, the summit did not live up to the promise made by the President of the United States, particularly with the notable boycott of the summit by the President of Mexico and uncertainty over whether the right incentives exist for Latin America to draw closer to the United States.
“It has always been difficult to find consensus in Latin America,” said Ryan Berg, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank. “This is a very diverse area, and it is clearly difficult for them to speak with one voice.”
On a day full of diplomacy, Biden met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau They agreed to visit Canada in the coming months, two government officials familiar with the plans told The Associated Press. They were not allowed to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Biden will also hold talks with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro And address the wider group of attendees. Vice President Kamala Harris met with Caribbean leaders to talk about clean energy, and First Lady Jill Biden was hosting a brunch to build relationships with her husbands. The day was scheduled to end with a dinner at Getty Villa, an art museum overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
There may be more tension when Biden first meets Bolsonaro, an ally of former President Donald Trump. Bolsonaro is running for a second term and has been casting doubt on the credibility of his country’s elections, which has alarmed officials in Washington.
When Bolsonaro accepted an invitation to the summit, he asked Biden not to confront him Because of his electoral attacks, according to three ministers of the Brazilian leader’s government who requested anonymity to discuss the issue.
Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, dismissed the idea that Biden had agreed to any terms of meeting Bolsonaro.
“There are no off-limits topics in any duo that the president does, including with President Bolsonaro,” Sullivan told reporters. “I expect the president to discuss democratic, open, free, fair and transparent elections,” he added.
The nature of democracy itself has become a sticking point when planning the guest list for the event. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador wanted to invite the leaders of Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, but the United States resisted because it considered them authoritarians.
In the end no agreement was reached, and Lopez Obrador decided not to attend. Nor did the presidents of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
Honduran Minister of Foreign Relations, Eduardo Enrique Reyna, spoke about President Xiomara Castro’s decision to walk away.
“The president was very clear that this summit should be a summit without exceptions,” Rina said. However, he said the Honduran government is ready to work on common problems, saying: “The political will to work with all countries in the Americas is there.”
It’s a reminder that relations with Latin America have proven difficult for the administration even as it solidifies ties in Europe, where Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to closer cooperation, and in Asia, where growing Chinese influence has affected some countries in the region.
One challenge is the apparent power imbalance in the hemisphere.
World Bank data shows that the US economy is 14 times the size of Brazil, the second largest economy at the top. The sanctions that the United States and its allies have imposed on Russia are much more difficult in Brazil, which imports fertilizers from Russia. Trade data indicates that the region has deep ties to China, which has also made investments.
This leaves the United States in a position to show Latin America why a close relationship with Washington will be more beneficial at a time when economies are still struggling to emerge from the pandemic, and inflation has exacerbated conditions.
Sullivan pledged that the United States “will allocate certain dollars to achieve tangible results” in the region, through training workers and money for food security, among other things. He said the US efforts would be “significantly more impactful” on people’s lives than “the kinds of extractive projects that China has invested in.”
Buck reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Deborah Alvares in Brasilia, Brazil, Rob Gillies in Toronto, Canada, and Elliot Spagat in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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