Blinken defends Cuba’s exclusion from Summit of the Americas

Despite the absence of presidents from some of the region’s key countries, the US-hosted Summit of the Americas, taking place this week in Los Angeles, could serve as a place of delicate dialogue and step-by-step problem-solving, the top US diplomat said on Thursday. .

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken defended the Biden administration’s decision to exclude Cuba, along with Nicaragua and Venezuela, while inviting other governments with similarly questionable democratic credentials, such as Brazil.

The stupidity prompted Mexico and most of Central America to send lower-level delegations to a conference considered a landmark for the region, a great shame for a country that is hosting the event for the first time since its inaugural session. in 1994 in Miami.

“The idea that some countries aren’t here I would dispute,” Blinken said, pointing out that dissidents, artists and civil society members from Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela are present — though they have almost no power in their countries. “I would say they are more representative of their respective countries than the regimes that happen to be in force now.”

Blinken noted that earlier this year the US was negotiating immigration issues with Cuba, and that the Biden administration had eased some of the restrictions imposed by former President Trump on travel, visas and remittances involving Cubans and US citizens. But Cuban officials say most of those measures were purely cosmetic and had little practical effect in alleviating the suffering of that country’s citizens.

Marilyn Monroes’ drag queens protest the Summit of the Americas calling for action on climate change.

(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

The slow pace at which the Biden administration has sought better relations with Cuba has surprised and disappointed many proponents of relaxation, an easing that began with then-President Obama when Biden was vice president and Washington eventually tried to end a half-decade. century of hostilities in the Cold War.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez told The Times in a separate interview on Thursday that the summit was a “disaster” because valuable information countries like him could have provided, particularly regarding climate change and fighting COVID-19. the conversation was missing.

Blinken also used the summit to voice concerns about press freedom in a region where journalists are often killed, threatened or silenced, acknowledging that it is often the leaders of those countries who bear the responsibility. Several presidents, prime ministers, governors and mayors create a climate of impunity that gives rise to crimes against reporters. According to UNESCO, seventeen journalists have been murdered in America this year because of their work.

The US goal, Blinken said, is to encourage watchdog organizations that advocate for the safety of journalists, and to pressure government leaders on this.

“First of all, we try to bring this to the attention, [and] second, direct contact with governments about the need to take measures to protect journalists,” Blinken said.

He announced that at the end of the summit, the US will allocate a new $75 million grant to 300 civil society and human rights groups in Latin America, including some working for the safety of journalists.

“We see governments around the world using so-called legal tools to actually shut down the free press, especially independent media, for example, with lawsuits designed to bankrupt them,” Blinken said. “We are setting up funds that journalists can rely on and media companies can rely on to defend themselves against these kinds of persecutions.”

Salvadoran activist Obbi Fenix ​​protests the reform of the immigration service outside the summit.

Salvadoran activist Obbi Fenix ​​protests the reform of the immigration service outside the summit.

(Raul Roa/Los Angeles Times)

He cited Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who regularly speaks out against journalists who criticize him, as having pledged to take “preventative measures” to end the violence that haunts reporters in that country.

When asked whether the Biden government’s plans to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman later this month would undermine press freedom rhetoric, Blinken said there were compelling interests that took precedence.

The heir apparent was implicated four years ago in the murder of Saudi journalist and US resident Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey. The Biden administration has vowed to banish the crown prince, but has now made Saudi Arabia more important in efforts to tackle global energy supplies and challenge an increasingly combative Iran.

Amid rifts in America and attacks on democracy across the region – including in the United States – and worldwide, a summit that at first sight seems to accomplish little is bringing at least a few people together to address pressing issues to put in order.

“The driving principle is that to solve these problems, virtually all of them require some degree of cross-border cooperation,” Blinken said. “None of our countries can do this alone. And we find that with all these – virtually all of these – governments, even if there are political differences between us, there is also a drive to find ways to work together, because it’s in everyone’s best interest to do that.”

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