Mexico and Brazil boycott Biden

“Invitation confusion, muddled agenda and boycott threats.

The US-sponsored Western Hemisphere Leaders’ Convention next month to showcase America’s resurgent leadership in the region threatens to turn into an image fiasco.

The Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles is less than three weeks away, but fears have been raised that, instead of receiving attention from the Biden administration, the event will highlight America’s weakness in a region that his predecessor, Donald Trump, chose to ignore altogether.

A growing number of Latin American and Caribbean heads of state are considering a boycott, including the presidents of the region’s largest countries, Mexico and Brazil. This threatens the White House with a humiliating blow.

No official invitations have yet been sent out, and according to the White House, a final decision on the guest list has not yet been made. But some countries have already doubted that the summit will solve the pressing problems of the region, which will never recover from the severe economic downturn due to the pandemic, runaway inflation, environmental degradation and the dismantling of democratic institutions.

A 900-word State Department memorandum about the summit sent to members of Congress last month contained no specific goals, and confusion reigned in preliminary meetings of regional representatives. In addition, according to one congressman and negotiator, migration has blatantly fallen off the agenda.

A spokesman for the US National Security Council, who is helping organize the event, called the summit “the most important event in our hemisphere for the Biden administration,” adding that official invitations would be sent out shortly. Both the National Security Council and the State Department declined to comment on the boycott threat.

Juan Gonzalez, senior director of the US National Security Council for Western Hemisphere Affairs, told the Americas Quarterly back in March that Cuban officials and the presidents of Venezuela and Nicaragua would not be invited.

In turn, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador threatened that he would not come either if the governments of these countries were not invited.

Lopez Obrador’s threat was echoed by the leftist presidents of Bolivia and Honduras. A group of Caribbean states also threatened to boycott if Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó was invited instead of President Nicolas Maduro.

The United States recognizes Guaido as the head of Venezuela, although the actual power is in the hands of Maduro.

“If there are exceptions, if not everyone is invited, then the delegation of the Mexican government will go, but personally I won’t,” Lopez Obrador said at a press conference on Tuesday.

Brazilian government officials say President Jair Bolsonaro may also miss the summit. The Brazilian president has a cool relationship with Washington, and the summit promised to be Bolsonaro’s first meeting with Biden.

However, American diplomats suggested that the indecisiveness of a number of presidents is just a nod to nationalist-minded or, conversely, left-wing voters, and may not reflect a final decision.

Some foreign policy observers have also noted that planning uncertainty is generally typical of regional events of this kind, focusing more on symbolic gestures than on concrete decisions.

“For a summit like this, three weeks is an eternity,” said Dan Restrepo, a fellow at the Center for American Progress and former head of the Western Hemisphere Affairs at the US National Security Council.

But boycott threats highlight the challenges the Biden administration has faced in advancing its interests in America, where the US has long played a huge role. Ahead of the midterm elections, the administration is also seeking a viable regional deal on illegal migration, a source familiar with the matter said.

“Latin American governments want to show Washington that he is no longer at the head of the table, that this will be a summit of equals, and Uncle Sam will not be able to decide who to invite and who not,” said Americas Quarterly editor Brian Winter. .

Cuba was not invited to the first six summits of the Americas, but they were invited to the last two in Panama and Peru.

The Biden administration’s original plan not to call Cuba partly reflects domestic political pressure to avoid provocations against Cuban-born Democratic Senator Robert Menendez from New Jersey. He chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has been a consistent critic of the Cuban government.

“President Biden has made it clear that he intends to restore US credibility and leadership in the worldwide campaign against authoritarian forces,” Menendez said in an email. “And the president is keeping his promise.”

Without López Obrador, any sort of workable migration deal will be much more difficult.

Mexico itself is the largest source of migrants to the US, and its government is working with Washington to stop the flow of citizens from other countries towards the border.

“A summit of the Americas without the presidents of Mexico and Brazil is nonsense,” said Jorge Castañeda, former Mexican foreign minister and now New York University professor. “It’s a failure.”

Bolsonaro’s absence threatens to undermine any progress on two other important foreign policy goals of the Biden administration – climate change and the defense of democracy.

The prolonged silence between Biden and Bolsonaro has already led to tense diplomatic relations.

During the Biden presidency, Bolsonaro drew closer to Russia, expanded deforestation in the Amazon and questioned the integrity of his own country’s elections. US officials demanded a change of course in private and criticized Bolsonaro publicly from time to time.

The most pressing issue is the forthcoming presidential elections in Brazil in October. The Biden administration fears that after months of hesitation, Bolsonaro will publicly contest their results if he loses.

At the summit, the US and other countries could pressure Bolsonaro to respect the democratic process and publicly support his country’s electoral system.

But today it seems that Bolsonaro will not go to Los Angeles, and the summit, in principle, does not appear on his agenda, an informed source said on condition of anonymity.

Reuters also reported this week that he does not plan to attend the summit.

The Bolsonaro administration said in an email that it had not received any information about the schedule of the summit. Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourão added that the president had not yet decided on his presence.

“If the summit turns out to be empty, it will be a signal to the rest of the world that there is no coordination or common ground between the countries of the Americas,” said Bolsonaro’s former foreign minister, Ernesto Araújo.

Perhaps Bolsonaro doesn’t want to be embarrassed if Biden makes public statements about the security of the Brazilian election.

“The risk of running into unflattering headlines is too great,” said Thomas Traumann, a former press secretary for ex-President Dilma Rouseff of Brazil. “Will Biden offer billions of dollars of American investment? Hardly. So why go then?”

Authors: Anatoly Kurmanaev, Jack Nicas

Contributed by Natalie Kitroeff and Oscar López of Mexico City, Michael Shear of Washington DC and André Spigariol of Brasilia

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