Biden faces skepticism at Summit of the Americas

LOS ANGELES — President Biden aggressively promised new leadership on Thursday to help face economic despair and mass migration in Latin America, but his pledge was met with skepticism by leaders in the region, who said the United States is doing too little to address the grim situation. facing a global crisis.

Speaking to leaders gathered at the ninth Summit of the Americas, Mr. Biden urged attendees to work together for concrete commitments to tackle poverty, corruption, violence and climate change. He promised to demonstrate America’s “enduring investment in our shared future.”

“There is no reason why the Western Hemisphere cannot be the most forward-looking, most democratic, most prosperous, most peaceful and safe region in the world,” the president told the meeting.

But some of Mr Biden’s colleagues viewed what he called “strong and constructive diplomacy” with less optimism.

A boycott of the summit by leaders of several Latin American countries — including Mexico, a regional powerhouse — continued to undermine the United States-hosted meeting.

Mr. Biden had hoped to bring together the leaders of the hemisphere as a demonstration of American strength and unity. Instead, his refusal to invite several authoritarian leaders led the leaders of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Bolivia and El Salvador to refuse to attend.

Johnny Briceño, the Prime Minister of Belize, publicly rebuked Biden in a remarkable speech just after the president 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 prompted boycotts by four countries.

“At this most critical moment, when the future of our hemisphere is at stake, we are divided,” he said. “And that’s why the Summit of the Americas should have been inclusive.”

Argentina’s President Alberto Fernández also lashed out at the United States, calling for a rule change that would allow Mr Biden, as the summit’s host, to decide who was invited to the meeting.

“We certainly wished for a different Summit of the Americas,” he said. “The silence of those who are absent evokes us.”

Los Angeles, the country’s second-largest city, was transformed into a major geopolitical stage this week when Biden convened the summit, which takes place roughly every three years and brings together representatives from countries in the Western Hemisphere.

Biden said the United States and Latin American countries will announce a joint “Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection” on Friday, describing it as “a transformative new approach to investing in the region and solutions that enhance stability.” embrace”. The statement is expected to include Spain and Canada in addition to the Latin American countries.

It will have four pillars: stabilization and assistance to countries hosting migrants; new legal pathways for foreign workers; a joint approach to border protection, including tackling smuggling networks; and a coordinated response to historic flows across the US-Mexico border.

But leaders from Colombia and Ecuador, who recently announced separate programs to give up to three million Venezuelan migrants temporary legal status, said they needed more US investment and better trading conditions to help their economies absorb the newcomers.

Marta Lucía Ramírez, Colombia’s vice president and foreign minister, told The New York Times that the Biden administration should do more to provide loans to Colombian companies. She said migration to the United States “can be stopped by investments that create jobs in any country”.

The Biden administration has pledged $1.9 billion by companies to invest in Latin America. But Colombia’s President Iván Duque said less than 30 percent of the money the international community pledged last year to help his government integrate Venezuelan migrants has been delivered.

“We need to match pledges with payouts,” said Mr. Duque.

About six million displaced Venezuelans have fled the economic and political turmoil of their home countries in the past five years, including to Colombia, Peru and Ecuador. Central Americans dealing with gang violence and climate change have sought a fresh start in both Mexico and the United States. Hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans targeted by a crackdown on dissent have moved to Costa Rica, where about 10 percent of the population is made up of refugees.

US Border Patrol agents meet about 7,000 to 8,000 people every day after crossing the southern border into the United States. Among them are record numbers of migrants from Cuba, where the economic hardship has caused food shortages. Haitians fleeing the lawlessness and lack of opportunity in their homeland have also arrived by land and sea.

Leading up to the summit, the Biden administration scrambled to avoid the embarrassment of a boycott by key leaders — only to find its overtures rejected.

US officials have spent weeks negotiating with the Mexican government to find a way to lure President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to the meeting in Los Angeles. Vice President Kamala Harris called the Honduran leader to persuade her to come. Top aides were sent to try to influence the leaders of El Salvador and Guatemala.

Nothing worked. Heads of state in all four countries have refused to attend the meeting, a blow to Mr Biden at a time when he was trying to project unity and common purpose in the Western Hemisphere.

Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele would not even answer the phone with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, according to four people familiar with the outreach and not authorized to speak publicly.

The absences have cast doubt on the relevance of a summit that was meant to demonstrate neighborly cooperation, but instead broadcast loud fissures in a region increasingly willing to defy US leadership.

“It shows the deep divisions in the continent,” said Martha Bárcena, the former Mexican ambassador to the United States. The leaders who decided not to attend, Ms Bárcena said, “challenged American influence, as American influence on the continent is dwindling”.

When he concluded the first working session on Thursday, Mr. Biden acknowledged the rift.

“Despite some of the disagreements regarding participation, on the substantive matters, what I heard was almost uniformity,” he said, almost pleading with his colleagues from other countries.

Natalie Kitroeff and Maria Abi Habib and Soumya Karlamangla reporting contributed.

Leave a Comment