Shifter: “The Summit will reflect that the political and diplomatic influence of the US has diminished substantially in the region”
On June 6 Michael Shifter, senior fellow of the Inter-American Dialogue, was interviewed by the Hopkins Podcast of Foreign Affairs about the IX Summit of the Americas held in Los Angeles. On top of the successes and shortcomings of the Summit, the conversation also covered the most recent developments of US foreign policy towards Latin America.
COMMENTS FROM MICHAEL SHIFTER:
Question (Q): Could you explain the background on the tensions over the Summit invitations?
Answer (A): “The first Summit of the Americas was for democratically elected governments in the hemisphere, that’s why Cuba was not invited in 1994. Then the Inter-American Democratic Charter came in 2001 and there it says that Summit meetings should be only for democratically elected governments, which represents the rational basis for not inviting Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua to this year’s Summit. Notwithstanding the Charter, there are some practical realities, such as the 2015 Summit where Obama and Castro famously shook hands, meaning that Cuba participated in the meetings. In 2018, Cuba was also a participant, so this is the rationale behind the counter argument concerning the invitations to Los Angeles.”
(Q): What would a successful Summit of the Americas actually achieve?
(A): “A successful Summit would start with dealing with something that has been devastating for the whole hemisphere, such as the pandemic. The first priority would be to assess the collective failure of the pandemic response and to establish some viable and realistic steps that could be taken to enhance future health crises management. The US is also pushing for a migration agreement, which is a regional challenge and not only a US South border issue. Climate change could also be another topic on the agenda, if the US is ready to make a substantial financial commitment to the region. Governments should come together and focus on few specific things; the conditions are not as they were in 1994 and they are not going to return like that. Latin America is facing a new reality, the US has a different role and China is a major player in the region, we should recognize and adapt to it.”
(Q): What does the Summit mean for the future of US regional influence?
(A): The Summit will reflect that the political and diplomatic influence of the US has diminished substantially in the region. The US has a lot of soft power, so considering influence in broader terms it’s still there, but as far as diplomatic and economic engagement goes it’s on decline. There is no way the US will be able to compete with China on major infrastructure projects for instance. This doesn’t mean that the US cannot be useful anymore to the region, it just means that it has to adapt its discourse and promises in order to regain credibility.”
It was just over a year ago that leaders of 34 nations of the hemisphere gathered in Trinidad and Tobago for the Summit of the Americas. How much progress has been made in the past year on the goals expressed at the summit?