Despite a major US lobbying effort, the Mexican president strongly hinted on Friday that he would not attend a high-stakes regional summit next month in Los Angeles because the Biden administration refuses to invite a trio of left-leaning governments. .
Mexico is arguably the most important Latin American participant in the upcoming Summit of the Americas, which administration officials say will have a particular focus on immigration. It starts on June 6.
During his daily marathon press conference, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said he was still awaiting a response from President Biden or the US State Department to his request to invite all countries in the Western Hemisphere.
Each host country for the summit, which takes place every three or four years, has discretion in establishing the list of invitees, and most, if not all, countries are routinely included. This is the first time the summit has been held in the United States since its inaugural 1994 session in Miami.
Administration officials have made it clear that they will not invite Venezuela or Nicaragua because the authoritarian leaders of those countries do not represent the model of democracy that Washington and others in the region seek to promote.
US officials also initially said they would not invite Cuba, then suggested they might welcome a “low-level” delegation from Havana. A diminished status did not sit well with Cuban officials, however, and President Miguel Díaz-Canel said earlier this week that he would not participate.
Cuba was present at the last two Summits of the Americas, in Panama and Peru. In Panama in 2015, then-President Obama shook hands with President Raul Castro, the first such contact between Cold War foes in decades. Months later, Washington and Havana opened diplomatic relations and began a warming in trade and tourism relations not seen in half a century. The overture was frozen by President Trump and was only hesitantly and minorly renewed by Biden, despite his promises as a presidential candidate.
López Obrador, an accomplished showman, deliberately did not engage in his remarks on Friday morning but ultimately clarified that he would not participate unless Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua were invited. Instead, he would send a delegate, probably his more pro-US foreign secretary, Marcelo Ebrard.
“We will wait to see what they [U.S. officials] decide, but no matter what, Mexico will participate,” the president said. “It’s just that I won’t participate unless all countries are invited.”
He added, “What is it supposed to be, the Summit of the Americas or the Friends of America Summit?”
López Obrador, a left-wing populist who himself has begun to display some authoritarian tendencies, also suggested the summit be used to find a replacement for the Organization of American States, the largest regional body that some see as pro- United States. He proposed a new body that represents all countries equally and that is not an “appendage” to the major powers.
As it stands, he said, the OAS, headquartered in Washington, is “a joke, a humiliation.”
Biden’s special envoy for the summit, former Connecticut senator Chris Dodd, spoke at length with López Obrador earlier this month after he first threatened to boycott the week-long conference, and US Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar has been seen entering the presidential palace in Mexico City several times over the past week.
Dodd was in Buenos Aires this week, trying to prevent any boycotts from spreading to other countries. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Brian Nichols is in the Caribbean this week, where several nations have also said they will stay home after the summit in protest.
And on Friday, a group of Democratic members of Congress released a letter in which they told Biden it was a mistake to leave countries off the guest list.
“Although we do not support many of the measures taken by the governments of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, we believe that a policy of engagement will yield more fruitful results than a continued policy of isolation,” the letter reads. .
The group warned that the controversy threatens Biden’s broader policy goals in the region, including curbing illegal immigration and improving health and development in the hemisphere’s 34 countries.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and State Department spokeswoman Ned Price declined to publicly detail the status of summit invites, saying the first “slices” of invitations had been sent.
López Obrador, who typically avoids international conferences, said in his remarks Friday that he was not trying to be “confrontal.”
“President Biden is respectful, he always talks to me about respect, sovereignty and thinks we should treat each other as equals,” López Obrador said, but added, “Now is not the time to rule out anybody.”
Times writer Wilkinson reported from Washington and special correspondent Sanchez reported from Mexico City.