Losing Latin America

Suppose they gave a summit, and nobody came?

In a spectacular act of defiance against America’s claimed right to control the hemisphere, the protest against the US hosted, by invitation only, Summit of the Americas is growing.

In its continued attempt to shape the Americas by stamping down alternative and independent models of government, the State Department announced that "Cuba, Nicaragua, [and] the Maduro regime [in Venezuela] . . . will not receive invitations" to the Summit of the Americas to be held in Los Angeles in June.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador led the protest, asking Biden to invite "all the countries of the America’s to receive an invitation, without excluding anyone.” On May 8, he reiterated that he intends to emphasize to Biden that “Nobody should exclude anyone."

López Obrador then escalated the challenge to US isolation of Cuba and Venezuela, threatening that, "If they exclude, if not all are invited, a representative of the Mexican government is going to go, but I would not." López Obrador seems to be maintain his challenge despite the diplomatic delegation Biden sent to Mexico to attempt to dissuade him.

The potential boycott grew when Bolivia’s President, Luis Arce, announced that “I reaffirm that a Summit of the Americas that excludes American countries will not be a full Summit of the Americas, and if the exclusion of sister nations persists, I will not participate.” And now, Xiomara Castro, the president of Honduras has added her voice to the boycott, suggesting that she will decline her invitation, saying that "if all the nations are not present, it is not a Summit of the Americas."

Though planning to attend, Argentina’s President, Alberto Fernández, echoed Mexico’s demand, saying “I ask of the organizers what López Obrador has asked: that they invite all the countries of Latin America.”

And now, for reasons that may or may not fully overlap with the other protesting leaders, the president of Guatemala has announced that he will not attend.

Though some in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have suggested that attending will allow nations to "argue for the positions of Cuba and Maduro from within the meeting," CARICOM leaders told Vice President Harris in a virtual meeting that "They also looked forward to all countries of the Americas participating in the upcoming Summit of the Americas." The leaders of the fifteen nation CARICOM have suggested that they will boycott the summit if Cuba and Venezuela are excluded. The prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, has said that he does "not believe in the policy of ostracizing Cuba and Venezuela." He added that "we do not recognize Juan Guaidó as the President of Venezuela.” He said that, given the current invitation list, "Antigua and Barbuda will not participate." Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, said that "If Guaidó goes to represent Venezuela, if the Americans were to do that it would be an act of folly and I think it will be unlikely that Caribbean governments would go."

Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center For Economic Policy and Research and an expert on Latin America, told me in a personal correspondence that "it’s kind of outrageous for the US to be deciding by itself who can come to this multilateral summit against the wishes of the almost all the other governments in the hemisphere."

He added that, despite the excuse given by the US, "hardly anyone believes it has anything to do with human rights or democracy." "In fact," Weisbrot says, "that’s the most outrageous part of it. The US government has actively tried to destabilize or overthrow multiple governments in this hemisphere in just the 21st century, including efforts that contributed to actual military coups in Haiti (twice), Honduras, Bolivia, Venezuela, and regime change in Brazil and Paraguay; as well as other interference in Argentina, Cuba, Nicaragua, and others."

Guillaume Long, former Ecuadorean foreign minister, has pointed out that the US is excluding Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua because of their democracy and human rights record, but never excluded Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, Argentina’s Jorge Rafael Videla or Guatemala’s Rios Montt. He adds that Columbia is being invited to Los Angeles "despite its historical and ongoing abysmal human rights record."

Latin America’s new courage in defending Cuba and Venezuela is part of an increasing momentum toward regional integration. The new momentum is challenging the US ability to control its own backyard. Key to that control is the isolation of challengers like Cuba and Venezuela. But that isolation is being challenged. Argentina has re-established ties with Venezuela and has urged other countries in the region to do so as well. Ecuador is listening and is considering re-establishing diplomatic relations with Venezuela.

Most importantly, Mexico is throwing its regional power behind Cuba and Venezuela. At a recent meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), hosted by Mexico’s López Obrador, Miguel Díaz-Canel of Cuba and Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela were present. And López Obrador recently called on the US to end its blockade of Cuba: “The Government that I represent respectfully calls on the Government of the United States to lift the blockade against Cuba." At the recent celebration of Mexico’s Independence Day, Cuba’s Miguel Díaz-Canel was present as a special guest.

López Obrador has gone further, calling for "the replacement of the Organization of American States (OAS) by a new body that integrates all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean." He wants that new body to be "a truly autonomous body, not a lackey of anyone." He called for an end to "impositions, interference, sanctions, exclusions and blockades" and a beginning to "integration in our continent." López Obrador stressed the desire to maintain good relations with the US while asserting "our sovereignty, with arguments, without bravado, that we are not a protectorate, a colony or its backyard."

To advance this vision of a regional integration that, in defiance of the US, includes Cuba, López Obrador recently went to Cuba in a visit that "was not just another visit." The visit initiated a "new, very close relationship between Mexico and Cuba." The leaders of the two countries signed agreements on health issues specifically, but, more generally they signed documents that "formalize" and make the relationship "institutional."

The integrated challenge to US hegemony is not only being launched locally but in foreign policy as well. US hegemony in the hemisphere was recently defied In the General Assembly vote to condemn Russia. Venezuela didn’t participate in the vote because it has unpaid UN membership dues. Cuba, Bolivia, El Salvador and Nicaragua all abstained. Mexico has refused to join the US led sanctions, and Brazil has said that it refuses to take sides in the conflict and that it will remain "impartial." Brazil’s president Bolsonaro has said that he is "in solidarity with Russia."

If Lula Da Silva defeats Bolsonaro in the upcoming elections as expected, Mexico’s clout will be joined by the might of Brazil. Weisbrot told me that Lula will not only "be active in promoting economic integration in the hemisphere," he will also "pursue good relations with both the US and China." China has now passed the US as the top trading partner of South America.

An early hint at regional integration and defiance of the US came when Lula said in a May 4 interview that he "was very concerned when the U.S. and the E.U. adopted Guaidó as President of the country." "You don’t," he added, "play with democracy."

As for US leadership in condemning and isolating Russia, Lula refused to read from the US script: “Putin shouldn’t have invaded Ukraine. But it’s not just Putin who is guilty. The US and the E.U. are also guilty. What was the reason for the Ukraine invasion? NATO? Then the US and Europe should have said: ‘Ukraine won’t join NATO.’ That would have solved the problem.” He went on to criticize the lack of effort at a diplomatic solution: “The conversations were very few. If you want peace, you have to have patience. They could have sat at a negotiating table for 10, 15, 20 days, a whole month, trying to find a solution. I think dialogue only works when it is taken seriously.”

Whether or not the US makes concessions, as they have started to hint at, and whether or not many of the countries of Latin America attend the Summit of the America’s, the region is beginning to build its integration and flex its independence. The leadership of Mexico’s López Obrador will only gather more force if Lula wins the upcoming election in Brazil.

Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.