What Would Make the Summit of the Americas a Success?
The White House announced Jan. 18 that the next Summit of the Americas will be held in Los Angeles in early June. The summit, which was last convened in 2018 in Peru, will mark the first time the United States is hosting the gathering since the summit’s Miami launch in 1994. What are the most important expectations from the Los Angeles Summit of the Americas? What will the gathering mean for U.S. influence in Latin America and the Caribbean and for the Biden administration’s objectives in the region? At a time when some Latin American presidents, including Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega and El Salvador’s Nayib Bukele, are being criticized as undemocratic, who is likely to be invited, who might accept the invitation and what will be the significance of who attends—and doesn’t?
Eric Garcetti, mayor of Los Angeles: “The Summit of the Americas is a chance for our region—North, Central and South America and the Caribbean—to collaborate and advance our shared goals for security and prosperity. As host city for this year’s summit, Los Angeles offers deep familial and cultural ties and economic and trade connections throughout the Western Hemisphere. We believe these global partnerships bring real benefits to our communities, as we work together on the greatest challenges of our time. Cities are where we invest in our infrastructure and develop solutions that deliver greater equity and a better quality of life. And cities aren’t just the laboratories of progress—they are the factories of our future, transforming how we heat and cool our buildings, move around our cities and generate our electricity. Our cities are where development and democracy take shape, and where we grow our next generation of leaders. We have so much to learn from one another. Los Angeles, as a global crossroads where nearly half our residents identify as Hispanic or Latinx, is proud to host this summit. Working together, our nations and our region will emerge stronger and better prepared to build a sustainable, resilient, and equitable future.”
Peter Hakim, member of the Advisor board and president emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue: “The Summit of the Americas has not been an effective platform for building an integrated or cooperative inter-American community. Yes, the first Summit in Miami in 1994 did launch negotiations for hemisphere-wide free trade, but a decade later policy disagreements sunk this worthy initiative. Free trade arrangements were subsequently established between the United States and 10 Latin American nations, but hemispheric trade integration was scotched. The third summit in Canada in 2000 led to the framing of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, a historic, but overly ambitious document that defied implementation. Today, there is less democracy and less cooperation in the hemisphere than any time in the past 30 years—not a promising setting for the Los Angeles Summit this June. Moreover, the two-year old pandemic has highlighted the limits on cooperation by sparking Covid nationalism, leaving every country on its own. Within Latin America, efforts at economic coordination—from the three-decade old Mercosur accord to the Central American Integration System to the recently forged Pacific Alliance—have accomplished little, and today are at a standstill. Once-heralded political accords, joining the nations of different regional groupings, have broken down. The failure of hemispheric cooperation encompasses the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Development Bank, the two longest-standing and most inclusive, hemispheric institutions. Confidence in both has sharply diminished in recent years. Relations between the United States and Latin America are today unanchored and adrift. Given the troubled state of hemispheric affairs, the prospects are bleak for progress on key inter-American issues—whether on economic ties, migration, environmental protection, democratic revival, controlling corruption and violence, or whatever. It is hard for me to imagine, in the short period left for preparation, a productive outcome of the upcoming summit, unless the participating countries lay their quarrels aside and agree their main task is to spell out an agenda of problems confronting the Americas and then spend the next several years working together to devise a few practical solutions.”
Roberta Lajous, former Mexican ambassador to Cuba, Bolivia and Spain: “It is good news that the United States is back in the world and will focus on the Americas in 2022. The neighborhood welcomes back thoughtful U.S. engagement amid the competing influence of China, the largest trading partner of many countries in South America. More support is needed for Latin America and the Caribbean to recover from the devastating legacy of Covid. No other region has suffered as much in terms of lives lost and its impact on increasing migration north. In assuming the role of host in Los Angeles in June for the Summit of the Americas, hopefully the United States will do its best to take the initiative and recover its leadership in the region, after the shock of the Trump presidency. President Biden probably has more experience in the region than any of his predecessors and will do well to recover the spirit the 1994 Miami Summit when President Clinton committed to free trade in the Americas. Hopefully, President Biden will also draw from President Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba, which could advance dialogue with Venezuela and Nicaragua. It is urgent to improve world governance. So, let’s start to show advances in our own hemisphere in Los Angeles in June. We need universal vaccine access in Latin America and the Caribbean to leave the pandemic behind. We also must get serious about climate change and its impact in migration in order to start managing its damaging effects for all involved.”
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: “Hosting the Summit of the Americas provides both a challenge and an opportunity for the Biden administration to energize Inter-American cooperation and to demonstrate U.S. commitment to the Western Hemisphere. The key themes of the meeting—democracy, public health, environmentally sustainable and equitable economic recovery, and migration—are timely and closely interrelated. The summit should aim to produce realistic, funded mandates to address these themes and provide additional support to the OAS to coordinate implementation. If the summit conveys the optics of purposefulness and basic consensus among participants, it will have succeeded. The thorniest issue will be the invitation list. Senior U.S. officials have said the commitment to democracy will be a key factor in determining participation, in which case the Maduro regime, Nicaragua and Cuba should not be invited. While excluding the Maduro regime is a given, some OAS member states will likely object to not inviting Nicaragua and Cuba and therefore the Biden administration—in conjunction with like-minded partners in the hemisphere—will have to work the issue carefully to avoid deeper cracks in regional consensus. Democratic institutions are weak or under threat in a number of other states in the hemisphere—most notably El Salvador—but participation by such countries should be encouraged, with the goal of reaffirming the obligation of OAS member states to promote and defend democracy, as stipulated by the Inter-American Democratic Charter.”
Rubens Barbosa, former ambassador of Brazil to the United States: “Latin America is a very low U.S. foreign policy priority. The situation is different from the 1994 summit in Miami when the Free Trade Area of the Americas was launched. The expectations in the region for the Summit of the Americas are very low. Today, Latin America suffers more than other areas the effects of Covid, with low growth and increased poverty. The United States is facing a huge economic and trade challenge in the region, given the increased presence of China, Russia and Iran and even a potential political challenge with Russian troops in Venezuela and Cuba, depending on the evolution of the Russia-Ukraine crisis. The United States lacks a consistent and coherent policy related to its own interest in the defense of democracy and security, and in the expansion of trade and investment. Does the United States have any concrete proposals for the summit in these four areas beyond the rhetoric—‘Latin America is not our back yard but rather our front yard’? In a fresh attitude toward the region, the Biden administration should invite all countries, including Venezuela and Cuba, despite the restrictions and sanctions in force. It does not matter if some countries would not accept the invitation. As is the United States, the region is divided and nearly disintegrated. The social inequalities, poverty, economic and political difficulties in practically all countries in the region should be addressed at the summit. Leadership has a price. Brazil has given up its leadership role in South America. Will the United States follow the same path in the Americas?”
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?