Just weeks before the summit, US ambassadors to several Latin American countries have yet to be seated, and the Biden administration is grappling with protests that a rally could possibly be held without some of the region’s left-leaning leaders.
The 9th Americas Summit, held every three years in a different country, will be held in Los Angeles from June 6-10.
At each summit, the United States has the opportunity to strengthen its regional influence to help shape policy and fortify alliances with Latin American and Caribbean countries and leaders.
But partisan politics in Congress and, in some, descriptions of the administration as incompetent, have hampered Biden’s confirmation in the Senate, and prevented the United States from sending ambassadors to several participating countries.
Moreover, signs that the administration will not invite leaders from Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela have begun to spur a wave of boycott threats from other countries such as Mexico and Bolivia.
Latin American expert Christopher Sabatini wrote this month According to Foreign Policy magazine, given the circumstances, this year’s talks could be “interpreted as a tombstone for American influence in the region.”
“It’s absurd to plan a meeting three weeks from now and not have an ambassador in some major countries,” Sabatini, a senior Latin American fellow at London-based think tank Chatham House, told NBC News. in the interview.
Among those awaiting confirmation is Frank O. Mora, Assistant Secretary of State for the Organization of America States, an international organization in which 34 countries in the Americas, including the United States, participate.
Mora, a former Pentagon official under the Obama administration, was nominated last July, but was recently scheduled for a personnel hearing on May 18.
Six candidates for ambassador positions in the region, including Brazil, El Salvador and Panama, are awaiting confirmation. The administration has not yet nominated ambassadors for several other countries. An ambassador or appointed person has the political weight to push things through the White House, as opposed to deputy chiefs of foreign affairs who are usually more risk averse.
Senate confirmation is already time-consuming and can prevent one senator from advancing to the House of Representatives by withholding nominations. Ignoring these holds can be done by majority party representatives, but may further delay the process.
R-Texas Senator Ted Cruz has put his ambassador on hold until February for a gas pipeline proposed by Russia. According to the Senate aide, this created a balance in the Senate and affected the entire process of nomination. Ambassador nominations have become a bottleneck after high-level confirmations, not only by counter-terrorism coordinators, but also by Ukrainian and NATO ambassadors.
The political divisions surrounding the relationship between the United States and Cuba also permeated Morata’s confirmation.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, tweeted after his nomination: “I am outspoken in support of engagement with the Mora regime. #cubaBeing the US ambassador for OAS is another slap in the face of Cubans for freedom.”
Senator Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has not publicly stated whether he supports Mora, but, like Rubio and Cruz, has traditionally been hard-lined against Cuba.
Decisions on who to invite to the summit are usually made months in advance, but administration officials said no final decision was made until late Tuesday and no invitations were issued.
Brian Nichols, Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, said in April that authoritarian leaders from Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela were unlikely to be invited to the summit.
Democratic Charter of the Americas The agreement, signed in 2001 by all countries in the region except Cuba, states that “one of the objectives of the OAS is to promote and consolidate representative democracy”.
This has been used in the past to exclude Cuba from summit meetings, but the last summit in Peru and the last in Panama invited a communist island host to a non-US host country.
The Biden administration has continued to impose tough policies and sanctions on Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba, led by the Trump administration, suggesting that the invitation to a leader goes against upholding the ideal of democracy.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said this week, “We recognize that the summit is a valuable opportunity to focus on the most important shared issues, such as the continued struggle for freedom and democracy of all nations.
The exclusion of the three countries provoked opposition from other leaders.
Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador said this week, “I will not go unless everyone is invited.”
Following his statement, Bolivian President Luis Arce and Honduras President Siomara Castro made similar statements.
Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the US said in April that if Cuba was not invited, the 14 members of the Caribbean community would also be absent.
“Usually US government officials would have prepared in advance for the possibility that these countries would not be invited,” said Juan Cruz, who served as senior director for the Western Hemisphere at the National Security Council during the Trump administration.
“You clearly explain that they are anti-democratic and violate human rights. “We have no intention of fixing that at the summit,” Cruz said. “I understand if countries don’t agree with you.”
Sabatini reflected a similar sentiment on the side of the United States for not inviting a country without representative democracy.
“It’s appalling that this regressive and intolerant regime owns the narrative,” Sabatini said, referring to Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
He called the current situation a “diplomatic failure” and said, “That shouldn’t be the story of why Cuba and other countries are boycotting.”
“The reason America doesn’t invite them has to be a story,” he said.
The chaos of this year’s summit has waned over the years.
“The last few summits have been disappointing,” said Juan Cruz. “The agenda is shallow and important issues are not discussed.”
Then-President Donald Trump skipped the last summit in Lima, Peru in 2018. Cruz, who has held various positions in the region through multiple administrations, attended the summit with Vice President Mike Pence, who was present on Trump’s behalf.
Cruz said some summit topics, such as migration, may be important to the United States, but not necessarily for the entire region.