The Semi-Summit of the Americas
The Summit of the Americas offered an opportunity for the Biden Administration to stride forward, separating itself from the baleful linked histories of Donald Trump and Covid 19. Instead it stumbled backward.
After finding himself isolated on the issue of Cuba's participation at the Sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, President Obama removed Dan Restrepo as his top White House advisor on the Western Hemisphere and embarked on the policy that led to normalization of relations and the beginning of serious mutual engagement with Havana.
Will a similar process happen in the wake of the limited success of the Ninth Summit in Los Angeles?
In ostensible support of its ideological spin on democracy, the US excluded Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Seven country presidents chose not to attend: Mexico, Bolivia, Honduras, St Vincent, Antigua, Guatemala, El Salvador. To obtain his presence, the anti-democratic Brazilian President Bolsanaro was given an electorally useful one-on-one appointment with President Biden.
Through a self-inflicted wound, the Biden Administration lost over 25% of top level participation and squandered an opportunity to unite the hemisphere. What did it gain? Will there be any impact this time on those responsible for misjudgment in the National Security Council and the State Department?
From The Atlantic's story about the Summit:
Latin American leaders emphasized an alternative set of issues: They spoke about poverty and inequality; the economic impact of rising inflation; the cost of food, fuel, and fertilizers; and rising debt burdens on their countries, which had to cope with a set of problems they had not caused, including climate change, arms trafficking, and the economic effects of Russia’s war on Ukraine. And many of them scolded Biden over his choice to exclude the region’s nondemocratic governments.
“When we disagree, we need to be able to speak to each other face-to-face,” said Gabriel Boric, the young Chilean president. He called for both the freeing of political prisoners in Nicaragua and the end of the U.S. embargo on Cuba.
From the New York Times coverage of the Summit
Johnny Briceño, the prime minister of Belize, publicly chastised Mr. Biden in a remarkable speech just moments after the president had left the lectern. Mr. Briceño said it was “inexcusable” that the United States had blocked Cuba and Venezuela from attending the summit, a decision that sparked the boycott by four countries.
“At this most critical juncture, when the future of our hemisphere is at stake, we stand divided,” he said. “And that is why the Summit of the Americas should have been inclusive.”
President Alberto Fernández of Argentina also lashed out at the United States and called for a change in the rules that allowed Mr. Biden, as the host of the summit, to decide who was invited to the gathering.
“We definitely would have wished for a different Summit of the Americas,” he said. “The silence of those who are absent is calling to us.”...
The absences have cast doubt on the relevance of a summit that was meant to demonstrate cooperation among neighbors but has instead loudly broadcast rifts in a region that is increasingly willing to defy American leadership.
“It shows the deep divisions in the continent,” said Martha Bárcena, the former Mexican ambassador to the United States. The leaders who decided against attending, Ms. Bárcena said, are “challenging U.S. influence, because U.S. influence has been diminishing in the continent.”
The Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Amor Mottley, told the Summit,
“It’s wrong that Cuba and Venezuela and Nicaragua are not here, because as you heard from Bahamas, we need to speak with those with whom we disagree….There’s too much narrow-casting instead of broadcasting. There’s too much talking at, instead of talking with…. And the simple priority must be people, not ideology.”
From the Washington Post story about Colombia's election
But Michael Shifter, a fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue... says it reflects a new reality captured by the division at Biden's Summit of the Americas earlier this month. "Latin America is going its way and the United States is going its way," he said. ...
On Sunday night, Petro called for "a dialogue in the Americas without exclusions," ...
Petro told The Washington Post that he envisions a progressive alliance with Chile and Brazil, a new Latin American left built not on extractive industries but rather on protecting the environment. He also said he would normalize relations with neighboring Venezuela
As always, Cuba is the fulcrum for US standing in the Hemisphere.
Reading comments by US officials in recent weeks reveals attitudes and assumptions that are vintage pre-Obama. (highlighted excerpts below)
Most recently State Department Press Secretary Ned Price naively or disingenuously tried to distinguish US history with and attitudes about Cuba from China’s perspective on Taiwan. White House Press Secretary Jean-Pierre, Secretary of State Blinken and anonymous senior officials strained to make consistent President Biden's plans to meet with murderous Saudi leaders with his anti-dictator stance about the Summit. Secretary Blinken ducked when asked why the unelected corrupt and probably deadly leader of Haiti was invited. A Senior Administration Official discounted the contradictory message of a one-on-one prestige enhancing meeting with the anti-democratic Brazilian president and candidate Bolsinaro and acknowledged preoccupation with the views of Congress.
Press Secretary Jean-Pierre compared Biden’s meeting with ASEAN heads of State to the Summit, without noting the event included the varied democracies of Vietnam, Brunei, Singapore, Cambodia and Thailand. Another Senior Administration Official justified exclusion based on a questionably applicable 2001 Summit position, completely ignoring the subsequent decision to include Cuba in the Seventh and Eighth Summits in Panama and Peru. Secretary Blinken presumptively chose the civil society NGOs that represented countries more than their functioning governments. National Security Advisor Sullivan dismissed as “idiosyncratic” the positions of countries that from principle would not participate in an exclusionist Summit. Secretary Blinken asserted the US right as host to reimpose the 2001 Democratic Charter of the Americas and to have a double standard if it is in US interests.
A Senior Administration Official insisted that announcements of reform of US policy on Cuba were not related to the Summit, but Reuters reported "A Treasury Department official said publication of the new regulations was purposefully aligned with the U.S.-hosted Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles."
Is their unthinking US exceptionalism based on ignorance of history, politically opportunistic hypocrisy, ideological blinders or a conscious embrace of Monroe Doctrine hegemonism. Maybe it is the latest manifestation of Wayne Smith's full moon and vampire theory of Havana's impact on Washington or Lou Perez thesis of “Cuba as an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder”.
I suppose it is also possible that Secretary Blinken and his White House colleagues are so caught up in the self-created US bubble that they honestly believe that Juan Guaido and our sponsored Cuban dissidents truly are the authentic voices of their people, like Donald Trump truly believes he was reelected and China and Russia truly believe in the fulfillment of their regional destiny.
For the sake of both the US and Cuba, I hope that the disappointment of the Summit of the Americas and the electoral results in Mexico, Bolivia, Argentina, Peru, Costa Rica, Honduras, Chile, Colombia and anticipated in Brazil lead to a profound rethink of US policy before China and Russia take full advantage of our obliviousness and/or intransigence.
Peace Corps Peru,1964-66
First National President, Committee of Returned Volunteers
Executive Director, Fund for Reconciliation and Development
62 time visitor to Cuba since 1997
Addendum from a consultant to the London based Caribbean Council, published in Dominican Today
Addendum from a consultant to the London based Caribbean Council, published in Dominican Today6/24/22
The View from Europe
The recently ended Summit of the Americas will likely be best remembered for the US decision not to invite Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, the chaotic unprepared way in which Washington tried to manage this, and the decision by some hemispheric leaders, most notably Mexico’s President, not to attend.
While this may be unfair in terms of substance, it is a real indication that in the longer-term, US influence in the Americas is waning and that others sense opportunity for influence or division....
China’s confidence in its burgeoning economic and political influence in Latin America and the Caribbean can be seen in the post Summit criticism leveled by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, who bluntly asserted: “the US needs to abandon its attachment to the outdated Monroe Doctrine and highhanded approach.” This same awareness of Washington’s slowly declining influence can also be seen in Russian actions and comments. It to believes that the Monroe Doctrine era is over and has said that its intention now is to deepen relations with Latin and Caribbean nations that have remained neutral on the war in Ukraine.
typos corrected and paragraph added 6/23/22
typos corrected and paragraph added 6/23/22
The moral and historical insularity of the Biden
Administration is laid bare in this dialogue between Matt Lee of Associated Press
and State Department spokesperson Ned Price:
QUESTION: Ned, just going back to what you said about the Chinese policy and the idea, this “might makes right” and that the Chinese seem to be going into this following this idea that big states can dominate small states. So there are a lot of historians who would say that the United States itself has had that same policy towards – particularly towards countries in Latin America.
But since we’re talking about Taiwan in this instance, let’s talk about small island – islands that are off the coast of each country. How exactly would you describe U.S. policy towards Cuba? Is that not the case of what – the same thing of what you’re accusing the Chinese of doing with Taiwan? And if not, why not?
MR PRICE: Matt, I think you can compare what Beijing is doing to Taiwan with clear acts of intimidation, flying sorties into what are – what is clearly
QUESTION: (Laughter.) Ned, you invaded.
MR PRICE: Are you going back 60 years? Is that where you’re going to?
QUESTION: Sure, yeah.
QUESTION: You have a long (inaudible) Cuba.
QUESTION: You can go back longer than – longer than that. I just want to know – I – again
MR PRICE: Matt, we’ve had this – we’ve had this conversation before. I’m here to speak to the Biden administration, not to the Kennedy administration or the Eisenhower administration.
QUESTION: Okay. All right. Okay. So let’s talk about the Biden administration and its policy towards Cuba, which still has the embargo, right? Is that not a case of a big state trying to dominate a smaller state?
MR PRICE: This
QUESTION: Which is exactly the same thing that you’re complaining that China is doing?
MR PRICE: This is a case of the United States seeking to help advance the democratic aspirations of the people of Cuba. If you take a look at what we have done, including in recent weeks, we’ve taken steps that
MR PRICE: seek to fulfill those aspirations: family reunification, visa processing, providing support to Cuban entrepreneurs, taking measures of accountability on senior Cuban officials who have been responsible for the repression, including the renewed repression that has followed the July 11th protests. So our approach to Cuba, I think, is the comparison you’re trying to make.
QUESTION: I’m not trying to make the comparison. I’m asking you if you – if there is a comparison to make.
MR PRICE: Okay. So I guess the answer would be no. Yes. Great.
QUESTION: You clearly would say no. Okay. Fine.
The most dangerous form of ideology doesn't acknowledge itself as an ideology.
Background Press Call By Senior Administration Officials On New Cuba Policy
MAY 17, 2022
Q Yes, thank you very much. I think that — that was my — my question was the relationship between this process and the Summit of the Americas, and whether — for the countries that have expressed concern about attending the summit in the absence of a Cuban invitation, whether that timing is in any way related to the announcement you’re making today.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, so the — I mean, this was always planned for what we’re doing. It’s a coincidence. But I would say that in the conversations we’ve had with other leaders, we have laid out also just the level of ambition of the summit agenda as really where the focus should be. And I think the large majority of interlocutors — and something where Senator Chris Dodd, as special advisor for the summit, has been very active — I think agree that we should be focusing on addressing a whole host of shared challenges in the region and not blow up the summit over who shows up and who doesn’t.
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, June 6, 2022
Q On the Summit of the Americas with the U.S. not inviting Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua for “principled reasons,” as it’s been described —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q — about democracy, does the President feel in any way embarrassed that a neighbor like Mexico is not coming? Does it rise to that level of awkwardness?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, let me just first say that the President was aware that — when speaking to Obrador — that he wasn’t going to attend. He was aware before the press conference was made, before he made his decision to make that announcement. …
And so, I mean, at the end of the day, to your question, we just don’t believe dictators should be invited. And that’s — and so we don’t regret that, and we will stand — the President will stand by his principle…..
Q Thanks, Karine. Back
to the Summit of the Americas: With Mexico and Honduras not coming and El
Salvador not being expected, how do you have a high-level or effective
immigration discussion with the region, with the presidents of Mexico and two
thirds of the Northern Triangle countries boycotting this event?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I think we’re able to still — you know, we’re able to still have an array of conversations and really focus on our agenda….
Yes, you know, we have these — you know, these — these couple of countries who are not going to be attending, but we have to — the President has to stick by his principle. He believes that he needs to stick by his principles and not invite dictators. But we can still have a fulsome conversation. There is a full agenda where he’s going to be very busy…..
Just as he has engaged recently with leaders of ASEAN in Asia — and this week, he’s going to do that at the Summit of Americas — the President will look for opportunities to engage with leaders from the Middle East region.
Q Just to follow up:
Congressman Schiff said, on “Face the Nation” yesterday, the President should
not go to Saudi Arabia, and that he would not shake the Crown Prince’s
hand. He said, “This is someone who butchered an American resident, cut
him up into pieces and in the most terrible and premeditated way.” How
does that weigh on the President’s thinking about a possible trip?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as you know, Congressman Adam Schiff is someone that we — we respect very much, that the President respects very much. As the President said on Friday, he believes it’s his job to try to bring peace where he can….
Q Karine, in your description of the three countries that were not invited, you said President has drawn a line at dictatorship, which is basically taking the moral position and putting that in a priority above, say, getting more oil from Venezuela and so forth.
But when you got to Saudi Arabia, you said you were looking to work for the American people toward a better solution. Does this suggest that the President, who called Saudi Arabia a “pariah state,” does not believe it is a dictatorship or believes that, for whatever its governance’s shortcomings, obtaining the oil is more important?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as you — as you started off saying, the President is focused on getting things done for the American people. You know, and if he determines that it’s in the interest of the United States to engage with a foreign leader and that such enga- — such an engagement can deliver results, then he’ll do so.
Background Press Call Previewing the President’s Agenda for the 9th Summit of the Americas JUNE 06, 2022
Q And second, if you could address the inconsistency between the President saying that he doesn’t want to invite non-democratic dictators to a summit like this while at the same time saying that, in terms of visiting Saudi Arabia and having engagements with MBS, he’s willing to do that because the interests of the United States are, sort of, more important than — you know, and you have to deal with people you don’t necessarily like to deal with….
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL One is: We have at no time said, including in discussions of participation related to this summit, that we are severing all relations or refusing to engage with countries about whom we have significant concerns related to democratic governance. We engage with countries like that in all parts of the world, and we will engage with countries like that in our own hemisphere when we think it’s in our interest to do so. That’s a different question from whether and when we’ll invite those countries to participate in a regional gathering that we believe is intended to and is best served by celebrating the democratic principles that unite the vast majority of the hemisphere.
So we think it’s a bit of an apples and oranges comparison and in no way suggests an approach that is different based on region by region.
Q Hi there. Thanks for doing this. You all said today that the President took a principled stance in choosing not to invite dictators to the summit. And I know Mike was just asking about this. But you also debated whether to invite representatives from Cuba and Nicaragua up until the very last minute, through this weekend, is my understanding, up until the start of the summit. So if this was such a principled stance that you all were taking, why was it such a tough call for you?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So I guess this is what I would say, which is: There are a wide range of views on this question of participation in our own hemisphere and then even in the United States, in our own — you know, in our own relations with our Congress and in the public debate here in this country.
And so what we have done in recent weeks, going back almost a month now, is consulted — consulted with our partners and friends in the region so that we understood the contours of their views; consulted with members of Congress who had strong views on sort of both sides of this participation question.
And in the end, the President decided and very much made this point in all of the engagements that we had — we made this point in all the engagements we had — which is that we believe the best use of this summit is to bring together countries that share a set of democratic principles.…
We’ve said from the beginning of this administration that we would take into account the views of our partners and allies on all of the key questions in our foreign policy. This is no different from that. And we believe fundamentally in engagement with Congress on the key questions of policy and politics as well.
In the end, that’s where we came down, and we feel very comfortable with the approach that we’re taking informed, again, by the consultations we had with our — with our region and in our own political system.
Q Hi. Thank you for doing this. I have two questions. First one is: How do you reconcile this question on democracy and the concerns on democracy with inviting Bolsonaro for a bilateral meeting, and remembering that we are five months from the election and Bolsonaro keeps saying that he might not recognize the results of elections that are considered fair for the United States?...
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I guess what I would say about the decision to do a meeting is that President Bolsonaro is the democratically elected leader of Brazil, a country with whom the United States shares a significant set of common interests and concerns.
We obviously also have some disagreements with the president and the government of Brazil that will also be the subject of what I’m sure will be a candid conversation between the two leaders. This is, frankly, what international relations is all about. And I don’t think anybody should be shocked by the fact of the meeting. In our view, it’s very much in our interest to do that, and we’re looking forward to the conversation….
Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan En Route Los Angeles JUNE 08, 2022
JAKE SULLIVAN: So the substantive work of the summit has in no way, shape, or form been touched or adjusted or reduced by the participation question. These two things are operating in entirely distinct lanes. …
The fact that their leaders aren’t coming is, in each case, its own reflection of, again, these idiosyncratic decisions each of them are making, and I honestly wouldn’t read too much into it one way or the other….
I think this doesn’t have to do with the fundamental question of democracy. I think it has to do with a difference of opinion — a diversity of opinion, frankly — across the hemisphere — frankly, across our Congress, across the American public sphere — as to what the right way to approach the invitation of a dictator or a non-invitation of a dictator is.
And that’s really, kind of, more of a question about the role and purpose of participation in a summit like this. It’s not a question about whether democracy is a good form of government or a bad form of government.
Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Daniela Barragan and Alejandro Paez of SinEmbargo Al Aire on YouTube JUNE 8, 2022
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) So why did the U.S. decide not to invite certain countries to this summit, even though the president of Mexico asked for that, and when this is a summit that’s intended – intention is to work on structural problems like inequity and poverty in the Americas?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yeah. Well, first I would say that a number of those countries are here. They are at the summit. I met yesterday with Cubans, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, all of whom are representing their country, from civil society, from the human rights community, from the artistic community. They are as representative – I would argue more representative – of their countries than their governments at this point in time. So they’re here; those countries are all here at the summit.
And of course, in a different way, as I said, Mexico is fully here with a very strong delegation led by my friend and counterpart, the Foreign Minister Ebrard. As I said, we had a very respectful difference of opinion on this. Usually the host country makes the decisions, and we felt it was important at this time to reinforce the Democratic Charter of our hemisphere, and to remind people that we’re supposed to be joined by these democratic principles, and the countries here should reflect that.
But again, all of these countries actually are here. It may not be in some cases their governments or regimes, which really do not have popular legitimacy.
Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Jorge Ramos of TelevisaUnivision JUNE 9, 2022
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, actually, those countries are here. For example, Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua – I met with representatives from all three countries from civil society, also human rights activists and defenders. I would argue that they’re as – and probably more representative of their respective peoples than the governments or regimes in place. So they’re fully here, they’re a vibrant presence at the summit, and that’s important….
QUESTION: So let me insist on this: So the fact that obviously the leaders of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, they’re not here, but also neither are the presidents of Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Bolivia. Are we seeing the creation of an anti-democratic bloc in the hemisphere? Is that a concern to you?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: First, Jorge, when it comes to Mexico, we’ve had and I’ve had extensive conversations with my friend and counterpart Marcelo Ebrard. The President is very much looking forward to receiving President López Obrador at the White House in July. We have a very deep and ongoing collaboration on virtually all the issues that concern both our countries. We have a difference of opinion on this particular question of attendance at the summit. Typically, the hosts make those decisions. We decided that it was important to focus on the underlying democratic principles that bring our hemisphere together. Back in 2001 at the Summit of the Americas, that gave rise to the Democratic Charter, and we want to make sure that countries continue to look to those principles….
QUESTION: — in Mexico. Let me finish with this. I want to understand your philosophy right now between the U.S. and dictatorships. In 2016, President Obama went to Cuba and he believed that more contacts, more tourism, more diplomacy would promote democracy in the region. You and President Biden seem to be going a different way, probably more sanctions, isolating Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. What’s the right way?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: These are complicated, challenging questions that we face for many, many years. Our focus in each of these countries is to take the steps we believe are most effective in advancing and certainly defending the human rights of people in those countries and their democratic aspirations, which are shared across all of those countries.
In the case of Cuba, we had the protests in July of last year, and we saw the incredibly repressive reaction of the government: putting minors in jail, sentences of 30 to 35 years, most recently artists who are kind of icons for those protesting last July being threatened now with sentences of ten and six years for simply expressing their views artistically. So we’ve seen that. We think it’s very important to stand up for those who are being repressed, persecuted. At the same time, we’ve taken some limited steps – in terms of family reunifications, in terms of travel, remittances, in terms of investing in entrepreneurs – that we think can also help advance the Cuban people in meeting their own aspirations.
QUESTION: Yeah, but maybe the question is: If the U.S. is treating other dictatorships the same way, why treat Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua in one way and China and Saudi Arabia in a different way?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I think in each of these cases, there are a multiplicity of interests that come into play. We have to look out for all of the interests of the American people, and hopefully the people that we’re engaged with. And what President Biden has done in each of these cases is to put human rights and democracy at the heart of our foreign policy, but it’s not the only thing that we look at. We have to bring everything together in a way that advances the interests of the United States. And one could go through each of these at the same time, but there isn’t – there are underlying principles, including the principle that we need to be standing up for the rights of people when they’re being repressed in one way or another. But the question is: How do we do that most effectively? And the answer in an individual case may be a little bit different.