Latin American leaders criticize Biden over summit invite list

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Two Latin American leaders expressed frustration that the Biden administration excluded Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua from the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles this week, arguing all countries in the hemisphere should have been included.

John Briceño, the prime minister of Belize, was also critical of excluding Cuba and Venezuela, calling it “inexcusable” that some countries were not present.

“It is incomprehensible that we would isolate countries of the Americas that have provided strong leadership and contributed to the hemisphere on the critical issues of our times,” Briceño said.

“I am sorry, but all of us who should have been here are not present in this forum that is so conducive to debate,” Argentinian President Alberto Fernandez said in remarks at a plenary opening session with President Biden and Vice President Harris seated nearby.

Fernandez argued that the host country should not be allowed to set the invitation list at future summits, saying “dialogue and diversity is the best tool to promote democracy modernization and the fight against inequality.”

After his remarks, Biden shook hands with Fernandez and the two spoke briefly offstage.

The Biden administration’s decision to leave Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela off the invite list was a point of contention leading up to the 9th Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador declined to attend over disagreements with the invite list, though he sent a Cabinet official in his place.

Biden officials said they did not want to extend invitations to dictatorships, though Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó was also not invited to attend.

“I think this doesn’t have to do with the fundamental question of democracy,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Wednesday. “I think it has to do with a difference of opinion… across the hemisphere — frankly, across our Congress, across the American public sphere — as to what the right way to approach the invitation of a dictator or a non-invitation of a dictator is.

“And that’s really, kind of, more of a question about the role and purpose of participation in a summit like this,” Sullivan continued. “It’s not a question about whether democracy is a good form of government or a bad form of government.”

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