WASHINGTON — President Biden will arrive in Los Angeles on Wednesday to host a three-day summit of Latin American leaders where he hopes to demonstrate his ability to tackle the economic and migration challenges that pose the region’s greatest challenges. stir up.
Even before his first meeting, the president has been the subject of a boycott by some of the top heads of state, who have refused to attend because Mr Biden has ruled out several dictators in the region. His agenda for the meeting — which includes a series of lofty-sounding announcements — is met with deep skepticism.
And a caravan of thousands of migrants is making its way north through Mexico in hopes of entering the United States while Mr. Biden is in California, a small but visible reminder of the border problems that have plagued his presidency.
Biden faces the unlikely prospect of making serious diplomatic progress at a time when many of his colleagues question the United States’ commitment to the region.
“I don’t think this summit was well-timed or destined for big things,” said Andrés Rozental, who was Mexico’s deputy foreign minister for six years. “I don’t have huge hopes for major breakthroughs. People will be skeptical and then they will have to wait and see if something comes out.”
During his presidential campaign, Biden made no secret of his desire to refocus US foreign policy on Asia, focusing on China’s emerging influence. Since taking office, he has been focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has spent months building coalitions between European countries.
Biden remains determined not to ignore the nations south of the United States, government officials said, especially the economic devastation in some areas that is destabilizing the region and undermining trade.
The focus of the president’s announcements this week will be the creation of what his administration calls the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity, which aims to help countries recover from the coronavirus pandemic and longer-term economic challenges.
Government officials said Mr Biden would propose reforms to the Inter-American Development Bank to encourage more private investment in the region and $300 million investment by the United States to combat food insecurity. On Tuesday, Vice President Kamala Harris announced pledges of $1.9 billion in investment by private companies over the next few years.
But it’s not clear whether the investments will be robust enough to prevent those countries from turning to China for help, a key goal for Mr Biden.
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“He can barely cover the infrastructure needs here,” said Mr. Rozental. “Build Back Better has virtually fallen by the wayside. There’s just nothing in the cards that could indicate Biden will come up with some sort of big New Deal for Latin America.”
For Ms Harris, who was tasked by Mr Biden to tackle the causes of illegal immigration, the summit could have been an opportunity to demonstrate its effectiveness. After meeting this year with President Xiomara Castro of Honduras, Ms. Harris said she was optimistic about the relationships she was building with leaders in the region.
But neither Ms Castro nor the leaders of El Salvador, Guatemala or Mexico attend the summit, undermining the vice president’s assessment of their close relationship. The snubs came after nearly a month of attempts by the United States behind closed doors to ensure their participation.
Biden’s insistence that the leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela not attend the summit was seen in many capitals as a sign of US imperialism and an unwillingness to fairly deal with the region’s complex problems.
The three Central American countries known as the Northern Triangle — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — which, along with Mexico, are the source of about 66 percent of illegal migration on the U.S. border have decided to shut their foreign ministers down. Sending business to the top as a signal of their displeasure.
Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador accused Mr Biden and Ms Harris on Monday of embracing “old politics, of interventionism, of a lack of respect”.
White House officials tried to minimize the effect of the leaders’ absence by saying the four countries would send high-level delegations to the summit and sign joint announcements at the end of the meetings.
“The US remains the most powerful force in driving hemispheric action to address the core issues facing the people of America: inequality, health, climate and food security,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday. . “And so the president remains a leader in the hemisphere.”
But the absences underscored the reality that the United States has struggled for decades to provide aid that is effective in helping the nations of the South.
Billions of dollars have flowed into Central and South America over the years, some of it under the supervision of Mr. Biden when he was vice president and appointed by President Barack Obama to develop the Alliance for Prosperity. In 2015, that program sent $750 million to the countries of the Northern Triangle with the aim of providing economic stability to deter people from migrating north.
Yet corruption in those countries remains rampant, some economies have flattened after the upheaval caused by the pandemic, and civil society continues to be torn apart. Interviews with people in Central America show a lack of confidence that more money is the solution for those devastated by economic collapse, natural disasters and political instability.
The lack of progress over the years is especially true when it comes to preventing migrants from moving north.
That issue was particularly difficult for Mr. Biden, who took office and pledged a more humane system at the border following President Donald J. Trump’s aggressive attempts to reject migrants. Instead, Mr Biden has relied on some of Mr Trump’s measures to keep asylum seekers out of the United States, citing the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden administration officials are bracing for another wave of migrants attempting to illegally cross the border this summer as legal challenges successfully force the government to lift pandemic restrictions. Migrant advocates have urged the United States and other countries to do more.
“The wider international community has largely failed to respond comprehensively and holistically to the crises in Latin America,” Meghan López, regional vice president for Latin America at the International Rescue Committee, said in a statement the day before. before Mr. Biden was set to leave for Los Angeles.
“These communities have taken up the response despite facing pre-existing challenges and receiving insufficient support from a small group of donor countries (mainly the US) and institutions,” she said.
The possible arrival of a caravan of migrants during Mr Biden’s summit could provide an opportunity for his critics to attack his approach to the border. Encouraged by Mr. Trump while in office, Republicans have in recent years tried to use caravans to instill fear by mistakenly describing migrants as gangs and criminals.
In fact, most groups are families — including children — fleeing violence and economic migrants eager for jobs in the United States. Many disintegrate well before reaching the border.
But their presence as Mr Biden hopes to show leadership in the region is a reminder of how persistent the issue of migration can be, especially amid economic and political uncertainty.
Asked about the summit on Tuesday, Ms. Jean-Pierre said Mr. Biden is “looking forward to” hosting the meeting.