Despite the common languages and traditions, America is a continent rife with inner political differences. In theory, this is why supranational institutions like the Organization of American States and the Inter-American systems, as well as blocks like Mercosur, Caricom, and Comunidad Andina were organized throughout the last few decades to improve cooperation between economies, societies, and states.
But politics are always in the way. If the OAS was part of the efforts by the U.S. to keep the region under its influence during the Cold War—and ALBA, Unasur, and the like, the response to such American influence—the Summit of the Americas expected to relaunch the hemispheric relationship in the context that emerged at the end of the previous century, with the Soviet menace out of the picture and democracy as the prevalent form of government.
The first Summit of the Americas was hosted by President Bill Clinton in Miami in 1994, originated due to the need of institutionalizing pre-existing ad hoc gatherings between regional representatives of the OAS. All of the region’s democratically elected heads of state were invited (that’s why Fidel Castro wasn’t there) to discuss common policy issues. That first summit brought together the hemisphere’s 34 democracies to articulate the region’s commitment to democracy and free markets. The so-called “spirit of Miami” promised to imbue strength into the notoriously dysfunctional political systems of the continent.
Almost 30 years have passed since the first Summit and the geopolitical arena has substantially changed. Many factors have reduced the influence of the U.S., from leftist governments like Chávez and Lula’s, to the new “Pink Tide” that took Gabriel Boric to the presidency in Chile. The last Summit, held in Lima in April 2018, showed the impact of the new power relations in the region. Donald Trump sent his vice president Mike Pence in his place, and the Peruvian government withdrew the invitation to Nicolás Maduro two months before the event, even before the fraudulent elections of May 2018 in Venezuela, with the support of the 12 countries of the Lima Group, the U.S., and OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro.
Bolivia, Cuba, and Ecuador claimed that Maduro’s regime should be in the Summit, but Peru invited three Venezuelan opposition lawmakers, Luis Florido, Julio Borges, and Delsa Solórzano, plus the former mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma.
During that Summit, special focus was put on the humanitarian crisis and the authoritarian drift Venezuela was suffering. The governments in the Summit denounced the lack of legitimacy of the upcoming presidential elections in May 2108.
This is the precedent for the 9th Summit of the Americas planned in Los Angeles between June 6th and 10th, as well as the surrounding Civil Society Forum, Young Americas Forum and CEO Summit of the Americas. According to the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Brian Nichols, the governments of Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba won’t be invited by the Biden Administration to the Summit. On the other hand, the Biden Administration hasn’t been clear on whether or not members of the Venezuelan opposition like Juan Guaidó will be invited. The U.S. event coordinator, Kevin O´Reilly, said in mid-May that it’s up to the White House to invite Guaidó in Maduro´s place.
This choice will have serious consequences. While not inviting these governments would be in accordance with the policy used since the creation of the Summit, some leaders of the Hemisphere have made it clear that the Summit should include all of the countries regardless of their political situations.
The statement by Assistant Secretary Nichols came with strident criticism from all over the region. Some leaders have even suggested that they wouldn’t participate in the Summit or send representatives if these three countries weren’t invited. The President of Honduras, Xiomara Castro, criticized excluding these countries from the Summit, and has conditioned her participation to the inclusion of these countries. Other leaders as Luis Arce and Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, from Bolivia and Mexico respectively, threaten not to attend or send representatives in their place to the Summit if these countries are not invited. In addition, the left-wing governments of Chile, Peru and Argentina, preceded by Gabriel Boric, Pedro Castillo, and Alberto Fernández, also criticized the decision made by the Biden administration, but have decided to attend the Summit despite openly presenting ideological similarities with the excluded governments. In the case of the Caribbean countries, this decision was objected to through a penned declaration by Caricom. However, just like Peru, Chile, and Argentina, they will likely attend next month. Despite the pressure exerted by some of the participating heads of state to confirm the eventual exclusion of these three countries, the U.S. hasn’t published the final list of the guests attending the Summit.
According to decision-makers in the White House, excluding Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua is the appropriate strategy for supporting the stability of democracy and development in the region. It’s imperative that crimes against humanity and the establishment of autocratic regimes in the region are addressed by all countries as a common task. On the other hand, the recent past hasn’t shown that this strategy (isolation or exclusion of problematic political actors) improves the material and political conditions inside those countries. One thing is clear: the U.S. doesn’t possess the geopolitical leverage it had 30 years ago after the end of the Cold War. Unfortunately, excluding governments presided by Maduro, Díaz-Canel and Ortega undoubtedly brings further tension to a region that needs to solve its political conflicts rationally.
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