On the eve of President Biden’s appearance at the Summit of the Americas on Wednesday, activists and politicians worked to make their voices heard over the logistical hubbub, even if it meant taking the script off the track.
State Secretary Antony J. Blinken held a symposium for student journalists in defense of press freedom at the end of a speech round. But he soon found himself answering tough questions like why the US does business with governments that supposedly kill journalists while condemning others.
Blinken gave his measured remarks about the importance of a free press and emphasized how dangerous it is for journalists in America, where they are often killed without being in a war zone.
He named a few murdered journalists from Mexico, where a dozen have been killed this year, and praised others in Honduras, El Salvador and elsewhere in Central America who worked to expose corruption and were subsequently imprisoned or forced to jail. to flee.
“Today, the right to freedom of expression, including freedom of the press, faces major challenges in our hemisphere and around the world,” said Blinken. “Challenges that, if not addressed, could threaten the foundations of our democracies.”
Citing misinformation that polarizes and poisons societies, he said the US government would invest more than $30 million to maintain the free press in America. He also said that politicians and leaders should be prepared for scrutiny before members of the public started shouting questions at him.
One man, who later identified himself as a reporter, wondered why a country like Haiti — with a de facto government whose members may have been involved in the recent assassination of its prime minister — could be included at the summit. (The US has excluded Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela from the guest list, citing the undemocratic leanings of their leaders, but has included Haiti, El Salvador and Brazil.)
Blinking didn’t seem nervous. “In Haiti, we continue to work on a transition,” he said.
A woman rose to challenge US support for Israel and Saudi Arabia, two governments involved in the recent killings of journalists.
In one case, a well-known Palestinian-American journalist was shot dead during an Israeli attack on a city in the West Bank; the case is unresolved, but some Palestinians blame Israel for the murder.
In the other case, a prominent Saudi journalist and US resident, Jamal Khashoggi, was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and US intelligence officials concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered the murder. The Biden administration condemned the assassination in 2018 but now plans to refresh ties with the desert kingdom.
The fireworks at the media event, which was held in the historic building that once housed the Los Angeles Herald Examiner newspaper, have been a bit of a rarity in a fairly tame series of talks and gatherings thus far in this first Summit of the Americas to be held on American soil since the inaugural session of 1994. The summit’s keynote pieces kick off Wednesday with Biden’s arrival, along with the presence of about 20 leaders from the region.
Also on Tuesday, while visiting her home state, Vice President Kamala Harris held a series of events to highlight women’s economic empowerment in northern Central America and to showcase the progress she’s made in tackling poverty. migration from the region, a high-profile assignment she was given last year.
She announced nearly $2 billion in new private investment in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, totaling about $3.2 billion in corporate pledges for investment in the region since she started the initiative last year.
“When you raise the economic status of women, you raise the economic status of families, of her communities and of the entire hemisphere,” she said at an event on the sidelines of the summit.
There, she announced a women’s empowerment program to connect 1.4 million women to the financial system and the digital economy, and a program to train 500,000 women and girls in vocational skills.
Harris also announced the launch of a $50 million Central American Service Corps funded by the United States Agency for International Development to create salaried jobs for young people.
The initiatives are an important part of the Biden administration’s plan to address the root causes of migration from North Central America to slow the pace of migration and encourage people to stay at home through better living conditions and economic opportunities in the region. to create.
Biden is also expected to pitch foreign leaders about a new economic plan to mobilize investment in the region, a senior government official told reporters earlier this week.