Latin America Advisor

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How Much Can the Summit of the Americas Achieve?

Heads of state from across the Americas are to gather next month in Los Angeles for the Summit of the Americas. A meeting of the most recent summit, in Lima in 2018, is pictured. // File Photo: Peruvian Government Heads of state from across the Americas are to gather next month in Los Angeles for the Summit of the Americas. A meeting of the most recent summit, in Lima in 2018, is pictured. // File Photo: Peruvian Government

Leaders of Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba are unlikely to be invited to the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols said on April 27. Summit organizers hope the gathering will encourage multilateral collaboration and cooperation during a period of heightened geopolitical tensions and concerns about democratic backsliding in Latin America. What are the most important issues and initiatives on the agenda, and what regional challenges may present themselves? How useful is the Americas Business Dialogue component of the Summit, and what outcomes would make this summit a success? How have hemispheric priorities changed since the last time the United States hosted the summit in 1994?

Roberta Lajous, former Mexican ambassador to Cuba and Bolivia: “It’s high time that President Biden is devoting attention to the Americas. The Trump tsunami on hemispheric relations—he didn’t even attend the last summit in Peru—left a bad impression of the United States in the region. The pandemic, increasing U.S. competition with China and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have put additional strains on inter-American relations. The invitation to Los Angeles will hopefully have a soothing impact if commitments are made to improve the dire situation in most economies in the region, where more than 60 million are hungry and many more are experiencing food insecurity. Beyond the good will that the summit can provide, the Americas need to develop a vision for the future amid a changing world order. Democracy and the rule of law are in peril throughout the region, an issue that must be addressed. A nearsourcing strategy has to be developed for the North American powerhouse by promoting investment in the rest of the continent. It is necessary to secure value-added supply chains and sources of raw materials amid growing Chinese investment in Latin America. Migration from Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela and the Northern Triangle requires hemispheric coordination when the U.S. economy is short of labor and needs to look courageously at the issue. The summit should announce regional public policy coordination to support democratic institutions and investment, as well as a process of consultation to develop a vision for the future which was present in 1994.””

Peter DeShazo, visiting professor of Latin American, Latino and Caribbean Studies at Dartmouth College and former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs: “Next month’s Summit of the Americas meeting will bear scant resemblance to the 1994 inaugural Summit in Miami. The United States in 1994 basked in the glow of the unipolar moment, with its status in the Americas on the rise, the Soviet Union had dissolved, and China was not yet a global competitor. The heads of state in Miami committed themselves to strengthening representative democracy and to hemispheric trade integration, reflecting a degree of regional consensus that has long since eroded. The likelihood that the Biden administration will not invite Cuba—as well as Nicaragua and the Maduro regime in Venezuela—to Los Angeles has prompted consideration from within the Caricom group of possible nonparticipation in the summit, with other leaders in the region also criticizing Cuba’s probable exclusion. While not inviting authoritarian regimes to a summit of hemispheric democracies is the right decision—especially given the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—it puts even more pressure on the Los Angeles meeting to demonstrate the relevance of the summit process itself. Los Angeles must produce tangible results that have meaning for the citizens of the Americas. That requires agreement on concrete steps to counter social and economic inequality, promote green energy, handle the issue of migration and improve democratic governance. The U.S. side needs to be prepared with funded deliverables and to demonstrate a deeper commitment to rebuilding ties to the Americas, including new approaches in dealing with the authoritarian regimes that will not likely be present in Los Angeles.”

Katya Rimkunas, deputy director for Latin America and Caribbean programs at the International Republican Institute: “The Summit of the Americas will occur at a time when the region is facing daunting challenges. Economic woes, civil unrest, discontent with government responsiveness and authoritarian clampdowns have only worsened due to the pandemic. In turn, more citizens are growing disillusioned with their prospects and fleeing. Thus, the summit and its various stakeholder forums present an opportunity for the United States and participating governments to establish concrete regional initiatives on economic recovery and restoring and strengthening democratic institutions, both crucial for a prosperous future. The Americas Business Dialogue, like the Civil Society Forum, is an opportunity for cooperation across sectors and provides governments the chance to build partner- ships to implement the agreements that result from the summit. With Chinese economic and political influence growing across the region, the Business Dialogue is a space that can be used to fortify American support and leadership, while identifying alternatives to China’s economic expansion. Similarly, the Civil Society Forum provides a platform from which civil society leaders can highlight their priorities and proposals to heads of state. Given the growing discontent among citizens, governments should look to form alliances with civil society to address their priorities. In the almost three decades since the United States hosted the first summit, the region has changed, and priorities have shifted. While the original summit held an undertone of optimism, the ninth summit will take place under opposite circumstances. Yet, if managed correctly, the summit’s host could take full advantage of this opportunity to demonstrate regional leadership and the effectiveness of these summits.” 

Maureen Meyer, vice president for programs at the Washington Office on Latin America: “With a broad set of themes on the agenda and a region facing significant challenges, the heads of state and governments participating in the upcoming Summit of the Americas should ensure that it concludes with more than lofty statements. Two decades after the Inter-American Democratic Charter was mandated at the third summit in 2001, the region is experiencing setbacks in the democratic norms that were once celebrated. Public support for democracy is declining, and several democratically elected leaders likely participating in the summit have taken alarming steps to concentrate executive power, undermine judicial independence and attack government critics. Addressing this rising authoritarianism through enhanced regional tools and cooperation, including stronger mechanisms to protect courageous actors working to uphold human rights and the rule of law, should be at the forefront of summit discussions. Other agenda items, including recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and the climate crisis, contribute to the high regional migration flows which are likely to be a topic of many discussions. A top priority for the Biden administration, U.S. officials have announced the goal of signing a regional declaration on migration and protection at the summit. Recent years have illustrated that an ‘enforcement first’ approach is not effective at addressing migration flows. A regional response should address the drivers of migration, access to protection, complementary legal pathways and humanitarian assistance through shared responsibility; the latter is particularly important given how the United States has outsourced its international obligations in its regional engagement on migration in recent years.” 

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