It is supposed to show that America is back in its own neighborhood. But three weeks before the opening, the Los Angeles Summit threatens to expose Washington’s weakness in the region.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico, America’s most important ally in Latin America, has dropped a bomb by promising not to attend the three-year cabinet meeting unless the United States invites Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua – something the Biden administration had previously done. excluded.
Caribbean nations supported López Obrador’s position, as did Bolivia. Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro has still not decided whether to leave and Argentina is faltering. Iván Duque, president of Latin America’s fourth largest economy in Colombia, may end up being the most important invitee.
“We’re in a state of crisis now, and it’s really embarrassing,” said Ryan Berg of the America’s Program at the Washington-based think tank CSIS.
“I can not believe we’re out for three weeks [from the summit] and we are where we are, ”said Rebecca Bill Chavez, director of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue think tank.
The United States has announced a partial easing of Trump-era restrictions on Cuba and sent a team to Mexico to bow to López Obrador’s ear. But the struggle to persuade an important ally to attend what should be an indispensable meeting has already underscored the weakness of the United States.
China, on the other hand, has been growing rapidly in terms of trade, investment and influence, as it pursues Latin America’s abundant supplies of important raw materials such as soy, copper and lithium.
Berg contrasted the troubled preparations for Los Angeles with a well-functioning Chinese virtual summit with Latin American and Caribbean foreign ministers in December, which agreed on a three-year action plan.
The controversy over summit attendance hides a major problem: the lack of an ambitious agenda. Latin American officials complain that the Biden administration has not yet put forward anything comparable to the bold proposal for a free trade area in America that Bill Clinton brought in 1994, the last time the United States hosted the summit.
Beijing has made diplomatic hay of US suffering. The Chinese Foreign Ministry quickly supported Mexico’s argument that Los Angeles should not be “reduced to a ‘United States Summit'”, adding: “Instead of benefiting Latin America … the United States has brought Latin America reckless exploitation, deliberate sanctions, inflation , political interference, regime change, assassination of politicians and even armed aggression. “
China has already bought goodwill through $ 130 billion in government bank loans to Latin America and the Caribbean over the past 15 years and $ 72 billion in corporate acquisitions over the past decade. Following a successful bout of vaccine diplomacy during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is now promoting its Belt and Road Infrastructure Initiative, to which at least 20 Latin American and Caribbean nations have joined.
Washington has recently begun circulating proposals for the summit, which may include the use of financial firepower by institutions such as the Development Finance Corporation and the Inter-American Development Bank to help the region seize nearshoring opportunities, said Cynthia Arnson, outgoing Latin America director at the Wilson Center in Washington. “If there is one way to save the summit, it is to provide such courageous initiatives.”
Whether even a successful meeting in Los Angeles can stem China’s relentless progress in Latin America is doubtful.
Among its trump cards, Beijing – unlike the Biden administration – prefers to talk business rather than criticize governments over democracy, human rights and corruption.
“The United States is a bit like the Vatican,” said a Latin American top diplomat. “It’s very difficult to be accepted, you have to follow a lot of rules, go to confession, and you can still end up being cursed instead of going to paradise.
“The Chinese on the other hand are like the two well-dressed young men who knock on your door and ask you how you are. They say they also believe in God and want to help. That is the Mormon strategy. ”