EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The White House on Monday defended its decision to exclude “dictators” from a hemispheric forum on key issues such as migration, which in turn caused other leaders – most notably Mexico’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador – to stay home.
“You need to do a lot of preliminary work, political and diplomatic, to create a consensus so that when you come to a meeting, you’re essentially making pronouncements and announcing accords,” said Tony Payan, director of the Baker Institute of Public Policy U.S.-Mexico Center at Rice University. “It seems to me that is not the case. The Biden administration was not able to convince a lot of leaders to show up.”
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre acknowledged the president of Mexico – a key partner in America’s migration control efforts – would not be coming but said the gathering will still yield results on economic development, immigration, climate change, food insecurity and health.
“You can expect to see deliverables in those areas by the President and other members of his Cabinet relating to those focus areas,” Jean-Pierre said at a news briefing.
Lopez Obrador and a handful of other Latin American heads of state are upset that Biden cut off the leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela from the summit.
The press secretary brushed aside suggestions the absence of Lopez Obrador and Honduras’ Xiomara Castro will reflect badly on Biden’s leadership in Latin America. Both leaders are still sending their foreign ministers to the gathering.
“The U.S. remains the most powerful force in driving hemispheric actions to address core challenges facing the people of the Americas […] and so the president continues to be a leader in the hemisphere,” Jean-Pierre said.
The first summit took place in Miami in 1994. President Trump skipped the last one in Chile in 2018.
Payan said Biden wants to reassert an image of leadership in the hemisphere but faces major challenges.
“Latin America is a very fragmented continent, an amalgamation of countries that differ considerably among themselves. Agreeing to any single direction on any one issue is difficult. […] I don’t really expect a lot to come out,” he said. But “pulling the plug on the summit is more embarrassing than putting it together as is.”
To have the leaders of the Western Hemisphere in one place is an opportunity to address social inequities and the root causes of migration, said Oscar Chacon, cofounder and executive director of Chicago-based Alianza Americas. But with exclusions and no-shows, it may not be representative of the region, he said.
“There are at least three critical ideas that I am afraid are going to be missing. Even before COVID, Latin America was regarded as the most unequal region in the world in income and wealth distribution. People work hard but what they make isn’t enough,” Chacon said. “We also see examples of how democracy is not working like it’s supposed to. Governments are becoming authoritarian, and people are losing hope that by voting for candidates of conventional parties their problems are going to be solved.”
And few governments in the hemisphere are looking seriously at climate change, he said. “Climate change is advancing very quickly, causing uncertainty in the Caribbean Basin, the Southeastern United States, Mexico, Central America and Northern South America. There will be superficial conversations of what we are to do. We tend to look at symptoms, but not root causes,” Chacon said.
He also worries that a rumored migration “deliverable” might be heavy on enforcement commitments from partners like Mexico, Colombia and Panama, but light on addressing the root causes of poverty, insecurity and corruption that prompt people to head north to the U.S.
That’s because Biden might be pressed to demonstrate he can control migration as the “election show” in November nears, he said.
But Ted Piconne, chief engagement officers at the Washington, D.C.-based World Justice Project, cautioned against expectations of quick solutions.
“It’s not a question of what happens at the end of the week or at the end of the year. It’s a long-term process just trying to get governments on the same page,” he said.