The Summit of the Americas Failed Regional Integration Global Voices

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This article was originally published by Carlos Gutiérrez in Latin American Media Connections. An edited version is republished on Global Voices as part of a media partnership.

It is “a key moment in our hemisphere, a moment when we face many challenges to democracy” in Latin America. With this sentence, in an interview with the Latin American news channel NTN24 May 2, the US Under Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Brian A. Nichols, provoked a strong reaction from some leaders of the continent. He mentioned the fact that countries like Cuba, Nicaragua and “the Maduro regime” do not respect “the democratic charter of the Americas”, which is why they would not be invited to the Summit of the Americas (June 6-10) in Los Angeles, California.

The Summit of the Americas, which began in 1994, is a series of meetings between heads of state and government of the Western Hemisphere to discuss common concerns, values ​​and policies, organized by the Organization of American States (OAS). The host country — in this case, the United States — issues the invitations.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (“AMLO”) reacted first by declaring that he would not participate in the Summit: “If countries are excluded, if not everyone is invited, Mexico will be represented, but I will not go. When asked if it was a statement of protest, the president said categorically that it was “because I don’t want the same policy to continue in America.” And, in fact, I want to affirm independence, sovereignty and demonstrate universal brotherhood. We are not in favor of confrontation.

From then on, preparations for the Summit, which this year carries the slogan “Building a Sustainable, Resilient, and Equitable Future,” have become a headache for the US government. In a short time, the leaders of other nations also expressed their intention not to attend if Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua were not summoned. This was the case of the presidents of Argentina, Alberto Fernández; Bolivia, Luis Arce; Honduras, Xiomara Castro; Guatemala, Alejandro Giammattei and Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro.

This situation, practically a schism in Latin America’s relations with the United States, has put on the table the very raison d’être of the Summit, which, in its principles, seeks hemispheric integration.

President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez from Cuba tweeted:

We know that the American government conceived from the start that the Summit of the Americas would not be inclusive.

It was their intention to exclude several countries, including #Cuba, despite the strong regional call for an end to exclusions. (1/4)

For some experts, the Summit of the Americas reflects the lack of integration of the nations of the continent and the democratic crisis affecting many of them. It also calls into question the dominance of the United States in the region. For example, Anatoly Kurmanaev and Jack Nicas, in an article for the New York Times, point out that this meeting, which should “shed light on the vision of the administration of Joe Biden”, in reality “could show the decreasing influence of United States in advancing its agenda in the region.

Andrea Sanfeliz, director of institutional development at the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO), finds in the current American administration “an anxious, weakened leadership, with little direction”. She says what we might see is “the concern of the United States with the rise of populism in Latin America.”

Evo Moralesthe former Bolivian president, frequently cited as a populist, tweeted:

Everything that excludes, destroys.
By excluding sister countries such as Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua from the Summit of the Americas, the United States is destroying the foundations of solidarity, cooperation and respect for sovereignty that underlie the OAS Charter. The United States divides the countries of Latin America.

In recent years, authoritarian regimes have begun to reappear in Venezuela and Nicaragua, although Cuba once had a government with these characteristics, notes FLACSO-Mexico researcher Mario Torrico in the book “Giro a la derecha. Un nuevo ciclo político en América Latina” (“A turn to the right. A new political cycle in Latin America”). However, he adds, in countries like Honduras and Bolivia, “democracy has deteriorated” and “leaders with openly anti-democratic rhetoric” have “successfully emerged”. He refers in particular to Bolsonaro, from Brazil, and Nayib Bukele, from El Salvador. Xavier Rodríguez-Franco, a Venezuelan and Latin American political scientist based in the United States, agrees that, from a political point of view, the region is going through a “regrettable democratic regression in many of our countries”.

The “authoritarian threat” in Latin America, adds Torrico in his writings, “comes at a time when the population lacks confidence not only in politicians and political parties, but also in declining support for democracy itself in the face of to persistent problems that are unresolved, such as insecurity, the precarious economic situation of families and corruption.

In the Latin American region, we live in the moment of greatest disunity in decades, says Rodriguez-Franco. According to his analysis, “the integrationist thrust of the first 15 years of the 21st century is in its darkest hours, in its most bitter hours. Regional and sub-regional integration agreements in Central America, the Caribbean and South America, such as the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), the Andean Community or the Caribbean Communityare essentially empty structures, with no political content, regulatory voids, and very little ability to interfere in the regulatory framework of inter-American commerce.

For journalist Francesco Manetto of El País (Spain), the continent’s disarray is nothing new. However, he considers that, with his statements, Mexican President López Obrador has provoked a reaction in several countries beyond Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. From a symbolic point of view, he explains, “the United States still bears the burden of a past in which it intervened directly”. Therefore, “we may be facing a new international policy of the United States with the rest of the region”.

The incident of refusing invitations to Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua points to a future of risky polarization on the continent.

The nations that make up the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA-TCP) – which include some Caribbean countries, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia – made this clear at their own summit in Havana on May 27. There, as stated by their executive secretary, Sacha Llorenti, the leaders repudiated “the exclusions and discriminatory treatment” of the powers of the North and ratified “their commitment to strengthen the ALBA-TCP as an instrument of union of our peoples on the basis of the principles of solidarity, social justice, cooperation and economic complementarity”. They also spoke out in favor of “genuine regional integration led by the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and with the postulates of the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace”.

With its position of exclusion, Washington seems to forget that it not only coexisted in the past with the worst Latin American dictatorships, but that it also encouraged them, which contributed to the emergence of strong anti- Americans on the continent.

In this scenario, Mexico plays the most complicated role. It is not easy, because it is a “hinge” or “cushion” nation, as defined by Andrea Sanfeliz since on the one hand it shares a border with the United States and, on the other hand, it is one of the most relevant nations in Latin America.

Even so, in this Summit of the Americas crisis, AMLO has demonstrated significant influence in the region. “I don’t know how favorable this act of rebellion, in quotes, against the United States will be for Mexico, or what direct consequences its participation in the summit will have,” Sanfeliz says. The president waited until the last minute before going public with his decision not to attend the summit.

One thing has become clear: Pan-American integration is in shambles, as are the opportunities for in-depth discussion of continental issues in order to reach common agreements that benefit all nations of the Americas. For all these reasons, in the end, the citizens of the continent will be the losers.

Every week, the Latin American journalism platform CONNECTAS publishes analyzes on current events in the Americas. If you want to read more information like this, please click this link.

About Michael G. Walter

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