At the Summit of the Americas, Biden calls democracy vital

President Biden formally opened the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles on Wednesday by declaring democracy a “feature of our region” as he tried to quell tensions over his decision to exclude some leaders the US sees as autocratic, a movement that led to a partial boycott of the conference.

“As we meet again today, at a time when democracy is under attack around the world, let’s reunite and renew our belief that democracy is not only the defining feature of American history, but the essential ingredient for the future. of America,” Biden said. said during a 15-minute speech at the start of the summit at Microsoft Theater.

“Our region is large and diverse,” he added. “We don’t always agree on everything. But because we are democracies, we work on our differences with mutual respect and dialogue.”

Before the speech, President and First Lady Jill Biden greeted more than 20 heads of state from the Western Hemisphere, including Canada, Brazil and Argentina. But the summit, which will be held in the US for the first time since the inaugural meeting in Miami in 1994, has been overshadowed by the consequences of the exclusion of leaders from Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, an influential leader in the region, announced Monday that he would skip the summit over the bickering and send his foreign minister instead.

The leaders of Bolivia, Guatemala and Honduras are also absent, dealing a blow to Biden’s efforts to reaffirm US leadership in the region on economic cooperation, migration and climate change.

In his comments, Biden unveiled an economic framework he believes would make regional trade more sustainable, strengthen supply chains, create jobs in clean energy and tackle the climate crisis.

“We need to break the cycle where marginalized communities are hardest hit by disasters and have the fewest resources to recover from crises and prepare for the next,” Biden said.

According to the White House, the Latin American and Caribbean regions are among the countries hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and are responsible for more than 40% of the total reported deaths worldwide. The region has also experienced economic collapse, exacerbated by global inflation, as well as environmental disasters and political instability.

To address those challenges, the president proposed a fundamental change to the Inter-American Development Bank, pledging to invest US capital in private sector financing to improve digital connectivity, renewable energy and health.

However, the president’s economic framework is unlikely to satisfy those seeking greater trade access. Government officials, who briefed reporters ahead of Biden’s comments, emphasized that his plan builds on existing free trade agreements, but declined to say how much the US would invest in it. There are no countries that have registered as participants for the framework yet.

The president also previewed a migration statement to be unveiled on Friday, describing it as a “pioneering, integrated new approach to managing migration and sharing responsibility across the hemisphere.”

The statement comes as a caravan of thousands of migrants, mostly from Central America, Venezuela and Haiti, began moving north from Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala earlier this week to protest their conditions.

The Biden administration has struggled in the past year to manage a record flow of migrants at the US-Mexico border. Border officials made nearly 202,000 detentions in April, a slight decrease from March, when the highest point was reached in 22 years.

“Secure and orderly migration is good for all of our economies, including the United States,” Biden said, calling it a “catalyst for sustainable growth.”

But he added: “Illegal migration is not acceptable.”

The statement is expected to include commitments from the region’s leaders to increase stability and increase opportunities for safe and orderly migration across the region, Biden said. It’s unclear which countries will eventually sign the plan, but White House officials are adamant that Mexico, Latin America’s second most populous country and a key US partner in migration management, will participate.

One of the more serious challenges facing the region is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has exposed serious shortcomings and inequalities in medical care across Latin America.

Biden announced the launch of a new America Health Corps to train 500,000 public health and medical professionals in the region within five years, as well as a new partnership between the hemisphere’s largest food exporters – the US, Argentina, Brazil, Canada , Chile and Mexico — to increase food production for export and fertilizer production for transportation.

Several health experts from the region are lobbying Los Angeles to obtain more vaccines and the equipment and technology needed to produce them. They also want access to more diagnostic equipment and treatments.

“What we have been through is training for the next pandemic,” Colombian health minister Fernando Ruiz said in an interview.

Ruiz attends the summit as part of the Colombian delegation and hopes to share experiences in coping with the pandemic, in which Colombia has done quite well. “The next outbreak is knocking on the door.”

White House officials insist the controversy over the guest list will not undermine the president’s efforts to boost the region’s economies. Vice President Kamala Harris announced nearly $2 billion in new private investment on Tuesday in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, bringing the total company commitments for investment in the region to $3.2 billion since launching the initiative last year. began.

Harris said in a speech earlier Wednesday that her work to raise billions of dollars in new investment from companies and organizations was “essential” to improving conditions in Latin America.

The vice president added that she and Biden see this week “as an opportunity to launch new initiatives, start new conversations and build new partnerships.”

Vice President Kamala Harris is hosting a roundtable with business leaders Tuesday as part of her call to action for northern Central America.

(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

On Thursday, Biden will meet Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for the first time, who had threatened to skip the summit. The right-wing populist was one of the last world leaders to congratulate Biden after taking office last year, renewing his skepticism about the 2020 election results in the US in a televised interview earlier this week.

While traveling to Los Angeles, Biden spoke by phone with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who is recognized by the US as Venezuela’s “interim” president. Guaido
was not included in this year’s top.

Staff Writer Tracy Wilkinson contributed to this report from Los Angeles.

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