WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s Summit of the Americas will get off to a rocky start this week after Mexico's president announced he would not attend the gathering, a major snub for a high-profile event that seeks to convene leaders from North, Central and South America.
The summit, which kicks off Wednesday in Los Angeles, comes as the Biden administration faces record levels of migration to the USA and increasing effects from climate change.
The White House billed the event as a chance to address "core challenges." Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's boycott of the summit – and threats from another leader to do the same – overshadowed the agenda.
The flashpoint that prompted the no-shows: The White House decided to exclude Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua from the event because of their autocratic governments.
“There cannot be a summit if all countries are not invited,” López Obrador said at a news conference Monday, adding that he would send Mexico's foreign affairs secretary, Marcelo Ebrard.
The Biden administration has attempted to repair relations with some Latin American countries, including Mexico, in the wake of the Trump administration's hard-line immigration and trade policies.
“It is important to acknowledge that there are a range of views on this question in our hemisphere, as there are in the United States,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday. “The president's principal position is that we do not believe that dictators should be invited.”
Jean-Pierre said Biden and the other leaders in attendance plan to discuss a wide range of policy issues, including the economy, climate change and migration.
Biden will be the first U.S. president to attend the summit since 2015. Vice President Kamala Harris will also attend.
Despite the boycotts, the Biden administration is rolling out commitments to countries.
Harris will announce Tuesday more than $1.9 billion in private sector investments to the Northern Triangle region, which includes Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The investments, which include commitments from Visa and Gap, are part of the administrations goals to address root causes of migration, as people flee their homeland for the promise of a better life the USA.
This week, the countries participating in the summit are likely to sign the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration, a commitment to work together to address migration, according to a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
'Paying the price': Biden and top aides misread threat of inflation as warning signs gathered
López Obrador is out, who is in?
In the weeks leading up to the summit, several presidents in Latin America threatened to skip the confab.
López Obrador, a U.S. ally, waited until Monday to announce his decision. He said that he will meet with Biden in July.
Newly elected Honduran President Xiomara Castro indicated she would boycott the summit because the guest list did not include Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. She tweeted that Foreign Minister Eduardo Enrique Reina will represent Honduras at the summit.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who had threatened to boycott, said he will attend the summit after a U.S. envoy traveled to Brazil to meet with him.
'Documented Dreamers': Children of immigrants fear deportation when they turn 21
Why didn't Biden invite Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua?
Biden administration officials said Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua have not upheld democratic principles and should not be included in the summit discussions.
Cynthia Arnson, distinguished fellow of the Latin American Program at the Wilson Center, said the “original sin” was to hold the summit in the USA because it “automatically raises the issue of domestic politics,” such as democracy.
“It's disappointing to see the defense of democracy by the administration become such a divisive issue in the hemisphere,” Arnson said. “That says just as much about the countries of the region as it does about the United States.”
Although those countries are not invited, the Biden administration relaxed some Trump-era policies before the summit, easing economic sanctions on Venezuela last month and loosening travel restrictions to Cuba and limits on Americans sending money to relatives on the island.
Ariel Ruiz Soto, a policy analyst specializing in Latin America and the Caribbean at the Migration Policy Institute, said the absence of Venezuela and Nicaragua will be felt during conversations about migration, as more people are leaving those countries. Migration from Central America is a bigger focus for Washington, he noted.
Arnson noted that inviting the three countries would have caused an “uproar” in Congress, as well as among some Americans of Cuban, Venezuelan or Nicaraguan descent.
“There would have been demonstrations in the streets because those three regimes are engaged in really deplorable practices,” Arnson said, noting human rights abuses and anti-democratic policies.
The Biden administration has seen record numbers of migrants coming to the U.S.-Mexican border in the past year. Last year, Biden put Harris in charge of addressing migration from the Northern Triangle region.
Ruiz Soto said the conversation has been focused on what Mexico can do to better manage migration and not what Mexico wants.
He said López Obrador will not be able to advocate for his country by not being there.
“That's going to be at the heart of what will be missing without López Obrador being in the summit,” Ruiz Soto said.
Ruiz Soto said he does not believe U.S.-Mexican relations would “suffer tragic backsliding” because of López Obrador's decision to skip the summit.
April border encounters: April saw record encounters at the southern border, but some data points dipped.
He said the United States and other countries attending the summit will probably come up with a set of principles for next steps on migration. Ruiz Soto noted the countries could touch on how to improve the monitoring of migration abuses by smugglers.
There will probably be a discussion about how to improve legal pathways for migrants, not just to the USA but Canada, Costa Rica and Mexico, he said.
“Everybody would agree that more needs to be done about root causes,” Ruiz Soto said. “But it's hard to pinpoint what that will look like. These principles are going to set a course for the future implementation of potential policies.”
Contributing: The Associated Press
Reach Rebecca Morin at Twitter @RebeccaMorin_
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Summit of the Americas 2022 shadowed by Mexico boycott. What to expect