Biden opens Summit of the Americas as regional issues flare

Migration, inflation and China's rising clout in spotlight as some Latin American leaders snub US-hosted event

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A meeting of Western Hemisphere leaders hosted by US President Joe Biden is taking place amid disagreements over the guest list, high-profile snubs and a file of urgent issues including migration and post-Covid economic struggles.

The week-long Summit of the Americas is being held in Los Angeles, California, the first time the US has hosted the event since the inaugural meeting in Miami in 1994.

It was originally conceived as a way to showcase US leadership in “America’s backyard” and to revive Latin American economies while also seeking to address the root causes of migration.

But this year's summit has been marred by a partial boycott of leaders upset over Washington's decision to exclude Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua on the grounds that the summit is only for democracies.

Leftist populist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of Mexico, a crucial US partner on migration policy due to the two countries' 3,200-kilometre-long shared border, is not attending, having insisted that Mr Biden invite representatives from all governments, including Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador will not attend the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles. Foreign Minister Marcel Ebrard will head Mexico's delegation instead. EPA

Other leaders, such as those from Bolivia, Honduras, and several Caribbean countries, have echoed the Mexican president's concerns, noted Gustavo Flores-Macias, professor of government at Cornell University.

“Among the main grievances are the continuation of the US foreign policy towards the region through a Cold War framework,” Mr Gustavo said in an email.

“President Biden seeks to mend US-Latin America relations after the deterioration that took place during the [Donald] Trump administration.

“The summit is an opportunity for the White House to change the perception that the ‘cold shoulder’ policies towards the region adopted by President Trump have continued under President Biden.”

Mr Biden plans to unveil a package to spur economic recovery in Latin America, help stem migration and counter China's growing regional economic clout.

His administration hopes the summit and a parallel gathering of top business executives can pave the way for greater economic co-operation as regional nations grappling with higher inflation work to bring supply chains stretched by the Covid-19 pandemic closer to home.

“It's much better for us … to have a supply chain here in the Americas than it is for us to be dependent on a supply chain that comes from China,” US ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar told Reuters on the sidelines of the summit.

Mr Biden on Thursday is expected to meet Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Though the two leaders appear to rarely agree, Mr Biden reached out to Mr Bolsonaro, a far-right populist, in an attempt to avoid another high-profile no-show at the summit.

Mr Bolsonaro will use a meeting with the world's most powerful man to boost his image as he heads into a tough re-election campaign.

Detentions of migrants at the US-Mexico border have hit record levels this year, and on Monday, another caravan numbering thousands set off north from southern Mexico.

Many of the migrants come from Central America, where years of drug and gang violence have forced untold thousands to flee. The bulk of these migrants, turned back from the US border, have had to settle in northern Mexico, creating an increasingly dire migration crisis for the country.

And Colombia and neighbouring South American countries host millions who have fled Venezuela but the US has been the most popular destination for asylum seekers since 2017, posing a challenge that has stumped Mr Biden and his immediate predecessors, Mr Trump and Barack Obama.

Agencies contributed to this report

A gap in construction of the border wall along the Colorado River between the US and Mexico in Yuma, Arizona. AFP
Updated: June 09, 2022, 4:19 AM