The Cuban government says the Biden administration is trying to choose the guest list for the upcoming Summit of the Americas, a hemispheric meeting of heads of state due to take place in Los Angeles in June.
“We have denounced the fact that the United States, as the host country, feels that it has the privilege of inviting whoever it wants and who it does not want, and always calls it a Summit of the Americas,” said said Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos F. . de Cossío told The Hill in an exclusive interview.
“The United States intends to host a summit of friends who can listen to what the United States says, accept the American agenda, and replicate what the United States says,” added Cossio.
The summits, officially organized since 1994, are a way for leaders to meet periodically and discuss regional issues.
Cuba’s participation in past summits has sometimes led to friction between the United States and host countries in Latin America.
In 2015, US officials unsuccessfully tried to pressure Panama to refrain from inviting then-Cuban head of state Raúl Castro, and in 2002 the former Mexican president Vicente Fox was embarrassed on the world stage when Cuban officials released a recording of him clumsily asking Fidel Castro to “eat and go” to avoid a face-to-face meeting with then-President George W. Bush.
While Cuba has not always been a willing participant in regional politics — the island has mostly snubbed the Organization of American States after the regional body lifted a decades-long suspension — officials in the Caribbean country say pressure to be included in the next summit.
“If they want a summit that really deals with the most relevant issues in the region, the issues that most affect the people of the region in the context of the issues and challenges in the region, it should be an inclusive summit,” said Cossio. , envoy of Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel for migration talks with the Biden administration.
“And the United States should not be afraid to engage in dialogue on topics, even when they may seem divisive to it, or even when others may have different notions, views, or impressions than the United States. United,” he added.
Cuba’s push to participate in the multilateral agenda comes as the Biden administration grapples with common issues across the Florida Strait, particularly migration, and a wish to avoid the political backlash that has hampered the Obama administration’s policy of rapprochement towards the island.
The White House is keen to hold a smooth summit, the first since the 2018 event in Peru, which former President Trump declined to attend, sending then-Vice President Pence in his place.
Then-Cuban President Raúl Castro also declined to attend following Trump’s announcement and an agreement to exclude Venezuelan Nicolás Maduro from the summit.
But the Biden administration’s current silence on the potential participation of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua could backfire as other Latin American countries call for broad inclusion at the summit.
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said earlier this month: “Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua are part of the Americas and should be there,” and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador was expected to raise the issue during of a phone call with Biden on Friday.
Ebrard is scheduled to travel to Washington on Monday, in part to discuss planning for the Summit of the Americas.
The Biden administration’s arguments for not inviting Venezuela and Nicaragua might be an easier sell than any intention to exclude Cuba.
The United States does not officially recognize the Maduro government, and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega was sworn in January for a fourth consecutive term in office after a 2021 presidential election widely seen as fraudulent.
But policy towards Cuba has always been a point of contention between the United States and Latin American leaders, many of whom see the continued economic blockade of the island as an excessively heavy-handed approach by the region’s leading power. .
According to Cossío, other regional leaders have also privately expressed discomfort with Cuba’s possible absence.
“If this summit becomes a photo show for the United States to say that it has called together the presidents and prime ministers of the region to discuss an agenda designed by the United States for the United States and with the ideas that the United States wants to promote for its internal political needs, the summit becomes a failure, the summit becomes a sterile exercise,” Cossío said.
Still, the Biden administration has reason to tread carefully in its dealings with Cuba, a perpetual hot potato in US domestic politics.
Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez (NJ), Cuban-American chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, scoffed at the idea of letting Cuba participate in the June summit.
“It’s like inviting the fox into the chicken coop. The Summit is an opportunity for democracies – not authoritarian thugs – across the hemisphere to forge an agenda that advances our common prosperity and our democratic values. It is also a space for us to sharpen our collective diplomatic efforts to stop entrenched tyrants from Moscow to Havana from spreading their poison further across the Americas,” Menendez told The Hill.
And Republicans will be quick to pounce on any whiff of rapprochement between Biden and the Díaz-Canel government.
“I’m not surprised that a Cuban regime official thinks they should be invited to participate in the Summit of the Americas, especially after the Biden administration hosted migration talks with the dictatorship,” the senator said. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) The Hill.
Cossío met with State Department and Department of Homeland Security officials this month to discuss the potential normalization of a 2017 migration deal with the United States.
Although the talks did not lead to new agreements, steps were taken to return to the American commitment to process 20,000 visas a year for Cuban emigrants in Havana and for Cuba to accept American repatriation flights. .
Yet the administration’s approach to Cuba is a far cry from former President Obama’s all-out push to shake up the sclerotic state of Cold War-era bilateral affairs.
“The Trump administration deliberately and forcefully reversed the advances that had taken place between the two countries. For that, he relied on fabricated excuses,” Cossío said.
“The current government does not repeat these apologies, but it is unable to alter actions taken under these attitudes,” he added.
Although the Biden administration has not repeated some of the more incendiary allegations leveled against Cuba by Trump and his administration officials, Republicans and Democrats are mostly on the same page regarding Cuba’s record. in matters of human rights.
“The only people who should represent Cuba at the Summit are political prisoners, prisoners of conscience and opposition leaders who truly represent the voice of the Cuban people who continue to endure the hardships of living under a brutal communist regime,” Rubio said.
Politically, however, the risks for Democrats to engage Cuba have diminished somewhat since Obama’s visit to the island in 2016.
Historically, both sides have been cautious in engaging Cuba, seeking not to anger Florida’s powerful Cuban-American community.
But the Republicans have become the hegemonic party in Florida, a reality that officials in Havana have not escaped.
“I feel like the Democrats are losing in Florida no matter what. The Democrats should not continue to justify their political failures in Florida with Cuba. Cuba is not the cause of their political failure in Florida,” Cossío said, adding that a variety of causes contributed to the GOP turn in Florida.
Yet, Cossío said, Cuba must engage with the United States because of the proximity of the two countries and the importance of the United States on the world stage.
“We cannot ignore what is happening in the United States, and we know that we have to deal with the government that the American electorate chooses or selects,” he said.
Cossío added that it has become more difficult to find interlocutors on both sides to resolve issues of mutual concern, even without engaging in deeper debates about the political systems of the two countries.
“The current polarization of American domestic politics affects this, the same way it affects foreign policy. It affects ties with NATO, it affects ties with Europe, it affects ties with Cuba,” Cossío said.
—Updated at 4:30 p.m.