By any objective measure, the ninth Summit of the Americas, hosted by the United States in Los Angeles from June 6–10, was a failure.
The stated aim of these summits is to convene leaders from North America, Central America, South America and the Caribbean, with a view to promoting economic growth and development — read capitalism — and democratic values — read US hegemony — in the region.
This time, under the theme “Building a Sustainable, Resilient, and Equitable Future,” the regional summit only brought together those nations invited by the US.
Not invited were Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, deemed by the US to be led by “dictators”. Non-governmental representatives from these countries, carefully chosen by Washington, were invited in their place.
This decision resulted in a boycott of the summit by several heads of state.
Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) made it clear some time before the summit that he would not attend.
He explained why on June 6: “I am not going to the summit because not all of the countries of the Americas were invited.
“You cannot have a Summit of the Americas if you do not have all the countries of the Americas attending,” AMLO said, denouncing the US’ "lack of respect for nations".
“Is it going to be the Summit of the Americas or the Summit of the Friends of America? Because if those countries are excluded, what continent are they from? Are they not from the Americas?”
“I believe in the need to change the policy that has been imposed for centuries, the exclusion, the desire to dominate, the lack of respect for the sovereignty of the countries and the independence of every country.”
Mexico’s foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard, who attended the summit in AMLO’s place, said the decision to not invite Cuba had set the summit back a decade. “It is a serious error to freeze out countries.”
Other nations such as Bolivia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Antigua and Barbuda followed AMLO’s led, only sending lower-level delegates to the summit.
Honduran president Xiomara Castro skipped the summit, despite US vice president Kamala Harris having attended Castro’s inauguration in January. Harris was the first foreign leader Castro met after taking office, but that did not prevent Castro from deciding not to attend.
While attending the summit, Chilean president Gabriel Boric said, as he arrived in Los Angeles, “It was a mistake [to exclude Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua] and we will say so at the summit”. Leaders from Argentina and Belize did just that at the summit’s opening.
The absence of AMLO and other regional leaders, despite weeks of White House behind-the-scenes lobbying, was quite a snub for the Biden administration. The exclusion of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua rightly called into question the legitimacy of the summit.
The high-profile boycotts led the Biden administration to shore up attendance, including dispatching Harris, first lady Jill Biden and others to the summit.
Harris announced a commitment of nearly $2 billion in regional investments in the coming years from a variety of companies, including Gap and Visa. The private sector provided input into the summit process through the Americas Business Dialogue (ABD), for which the Inter-American Development Bank serves as technical secretariat.
Harris also announced a new partnership to work with Caribbean nations to confront climate challenges.
However, previous pledges of economic assistance have done little to redress the widespread poverty and corruption that plagues many countries in the region.
There was little of substance in Biden’s keynote address beyond the usual rhetoric of forging an economic partnership between his country — and US corporations — and countries in the region.
Biden announced various measures ostensibly designed to drive economic recovery and growth in the region through US-style capitalism.
Not surprisingly, Biden also spoke about democracy, individual freedom and human rights in a not-so-veiled attempt to justify the unpopular exclusion of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua — countries whose governments the US seeks to overthrow by whatever means available.
Those present at the summit signed the “Los Angeles Declaration”, which aims to create incentives for countries to take in large numbers of migrants, and spread responsibility for the challenge across the region.
This is in the wake of thousands of Haitians, Venezuelans, Cubans, Nicaraguans and others leaving their homelands due to economic hardship, in many cases the direct result of draconian US sanctions. AMLO recently denounced the illegal US blockade of Cuba as a “type of genocide” and a “tremendous violation of human rights”.
The reasoning behind the Declaration is obvious. Migration is a major concern for US voters. It is an area where Republicans see Biden as particularly vulnerable in the upcoming midterm elections.
However, it borders on incredulity as to how the US or any other country in the region can tackle these issues, when the key countries involved were either not invited or chose to boycott the summit.
Protests inside and outside
Activists made their presence felt at the summit in different ways.
A pro-abortion rights activist chained herself to a gate at the entrance to the conference.
At a “conversation” with journalism students on media freedom, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was interrupted by US journalist and activist Abby Martin. She questioned the hypocrisy with which Blinken spoke of democracy while keeping quiet about Israeli forces murdering well-known Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in May or the killing of Saudi Arabian journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 at the behest of the Saudi regime.
Luis Almagro, secretary-general of the Organization of American States (OAS), under the auspices of which the summit was held, was also confronted at the conference over his involvement in the 2019 coup in Bolivia. At the time, ultra-right forces, supported by the police and the military, removed democratically-elected president Evo Morales from power.
The coup plotters relied, in large part, on an OAS report commissioned by Almagro that concluded fraud had occurred in the 2019 elections, to legitimate their actions. But several independent reports found no evidence for the OAS’ assertion that electoral fraud had been committed.
A counter summit, dubbed the People's Summit for Democracy, was held at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College.
The aim of the three-day counter summit was to give voice to those excluded and victimised by the US and fight the ongoing disinformation war being waged by Washington.
Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro and Morales sent messages of solidarity to the People's Summit.
Not content with excluding Cuba from the summit, Washington also blocked visas for Cuban special guests to the People's Summit.
Díaz-Canel said: “You are our voice. The Revolution has always had it very clear: where governments deprive us from our voice, peoples will be there to represent us, to speak on our behalf.”
If nothing else, the ninth Summit of the Americas revealed the extent to which the US is not trusted in Latin America and the Caribbean.