The Summit of the Americas is an instrument of American hegemony in Latin America
Earlier this month, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols gave an interview to Colombian station NTN24. When asked if the United States, this year’s host country Summit of the Americas in June, will invite Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela to the event, Nichols replied:
This is a key moment in our hemisphere, a time when we face many challenges to democracy. . . and the countries you just mentioned. . . do not respect the Inter-American Democratic Charter and, therefore, I do not expect them to be present.
Nichols was not the first member of the Joe Biden administration to say this; in March, Juan Gonzalez, special assistant to the president and member of the National Security Council, had already floated the idea. But closing in on the date and straight on a Latin American news program, Nichols’ remarks sank like a lead balloon through large parts of the continent.
The first signs of nascent dissent appeared in an area that might have seemed unlikely: the Caribbean. On May 5, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) announced that if an American country was excluded from the summit, its fourteen member countries would probably be do not attend. “The Summit of the Americas is not a meeting of the United States, so it cannot decide who is invited and who is not,” said Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the United States , Sir Ronald Sanders.
On May 10, it was the turn of one of the big names in the region: Mexico. During his daily morning press conference, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) said that in the event of the exclusion of countries, he would sit the top out.
We are not in favor of confrontation; we are in favor of unity, unity, and although we have differences, we can resolve them, at the very least by listening to each other, through dialogue, but without excluding anyone. Moreover, no one has the right to exclude [anyone].
AMLO’s radical approach to boycotting the summit has turned the wheels of diplomacy in Washington. Within hours, US Ambassador Ken Salazar had run at the National Palace in an attempt to persuade AMLO to change its position, while at the White House daily press conferencepress officer Jen Psaki stressed that “invitations have not yet been sent out” and “a final decision has not been made” as to who would be invited.
Such a maneuver, however, failed to suppress the mutiny. That same evening, Bolivian Luis Arce – elected in the 2020 elections that overthrew the US-backed coup – announced that he too do not attend. The following day, Honduran President Xiomara Castro – whose husband, Manuel Zelaya, was driven out of the country in the US-backed coup in 2009 – reported his opposition.
In an unusual confluence of left and right, Brazilian Jair Bolsonaro hinted, without specifying why, that he would also be a no. A few days later, the Guatemalan Alejandro Giammattei joined themfollowed by Nicaraguan Daniel Ortega, who announced that even if the Biden administration changed its mind, he would not go In any event.
With critical articles sprouting into mainstream media, the Biden administration has entered damage control mode. For two consecutive days, the administration announced the easing of certain restrictions about Cuba in areas such as flights, payout limits and consular services, as well as on Venezuela. A special committee, including former senator and top adviser Chris Dodd, has been loaded trying to succeed where Salazar had failed to convince AMLO to attend – but in a first meeting, lack do this. First Lady Jill Biden was then dispatched to the area for a six day tour but to countries where nothing was at stake: Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica.
By May 20, the State Department, in the person of Assistant Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Kerri Hannan, had been reduced to threatening recalcitrant countries that they would “lose an opportunity to engage with the United States” while in a fit of Cold War paranoia blaming everything on Cuba. And as the days went by, the uncertainty, the lack of an agenda and the lack of invitations remained.
The United States’ self-proclaimed authority to certify democracies is, to say the least, quite rich. Over the past twenty-five years, two of its presidents have been elected by losing the popular vote, one of whom was installed by five Supreme Court justices. Its electoral system allows oligarchs, corporations and special interests to contribute unlimited amounts of money through political action committees to elect members of Congress representing gerrymandered districts to a Congress with a 18 percent note of approval, but a 93 percent re-election rate.
Its justice system hunts down whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and journalists like Julian Assange. Its police kill African Americans and other minorities without pretext. On the day of the last presidential inauguration, a mob attacked the Capitol, forcing those inside to block room entrances with heavy furniture. None of this is lost on people abroad.
Add the history of American interventionism, and it all becomes a farcical joke. There is not a country in Latin America and the Caribbean that has not suffered, in one form or another, from conspiracies, coups, embargoes and interventions sponsored by the United States. United, in the vast majority of cases to support the emergence or continuity of flexible dictatorships.
Through Operation Condor in the 1970s, the CIA and State Department helped spread terror, torture, and disappearances across much of South America; in the 1980s it was central America round. And with the exception of a few isolated and carefully worded words no apologiesthe United States has not only failed to come to terms with its brutal and interventionist past, but, as the recent examples of Honduras and Bolivia have shown, continues to pursue the same policies in a largely bipartisan manner.
Moreover, as has been amply pointed out, Cuba—along with fellow boogeymen, Nicaragua and Venezuela—participated in the 2015 edition of the summit held in Panama, in the wake of Brack Obama’s semi-opening with the island. So as things stand, Biden’s summit, in addition to rolling back the modest advances of the president under whom he served, could also end up being a regression on the dismal status quo he inherited: when the 2018 edition held in Peru and boycotted by Trump, each country was at least represented. This time everyone can guess.
Beyond the smiling authoritarianism of Brian Nichols and co, another reason the summit is in such a precarious state is that many countries have managed to suppress a simple fact: there is nothing for them. Illustrating the common mindset of America’s political elite, Biden – author of Plan Colombia and the Prosperity Alliance, which brought a similar “security” model to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras – seems only able to conceive of Latin America and the Caribbean in terms of migration and militarization.
Countries across the region have watched his administration pour billions into Ukraine while neglecting plans such as AMLO’s which, at a fraction of the cost, would extend two of its most popular projects. social initiatives — the Sembrado vida reforestation program and the youth apprenticeship program Jovenes construyendo el futuro — in Central America.
In a broader sense, the lack of enthusiasm for the summit may be a reflection of a larger problem: the burnout of the model itself. Born in 1994 following the adoption of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Summit of the Americas, through its Statement of Principles, was created to “promote prosperity through economic integration and free trade”. The objective, in ten years, was to envelop all the Americas (except Cuba, of course) in a “Free Trade Area of the Americas” (FTAA).
It is precisely for this reason that the 2001 edition of the Quebec summit was received with ferocity anti-globalization demonstrations, building on the 1999 “Battle of Seattle” against the World Trade Organization (WTO). When the FTAA finally sank into international protests, the work of social movements and opposition from pink tide governments, the Summit of the Americas was stripped of its original purpose.
Moreover, the summits are an outgrowth of the Organization of American States (OAS), the Cold War relic based in Washington and designed to secure US hegemony throughout the region. While the organization turned a blind eye to the abuses of right-wing dictatorships in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, it was an enthusiastic supporter of the neoliberal free trade agenda that became the weapon of choice in the 90s and 2000s. And as Secretary General Luis Almagro’s appalling conduct during the 2019 elections in Bolivia made clear, he continues to support a good coup whenever the opportunity arises.
AMLO, to its credit, has repeatedly called for the OAS to be replaced by a new organization “which is no one’s lackey”. And at last year’s summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), he proposed exactly that: a kind of Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) for the new generation that would include all the region. Under obvious pressure, however, he pivoted to suggest the proposed union should cover all the Americas, meaning the United States and Canada as well.
That would be a historic mistake. While workers, unions and popular movements in the Americas have everything to gain from strengthening their ties, the imperial interests of the United States and Canada simply cannot fit into the same organization as Latin America and the Caribbean. Almost inevitably, such an association of the Americas would combine the politics of the OAS with the economics of the FTAA, locking them into an airtight legal structure from which no one could escape. And without, in all likelihood, conceding an inch on the free movement of peoples.
In contrast, as the fracas of this year’s summit amply demonstrated, what frightens the United States is the prospect of a region to the south with even a moderate degree of coordinated decision-making. The region should return to AMLO’s initial proposal, drawing on the experience of its integration experiences over the past twenty years, and work to make the union of Latin America and the Caribbean a reality. Then, if he chooses to attend future editions of events like the Summit of the Americas, he can do so on his terms. In the meantime, as the events of the past few weeks have demonstrated, there is strength in saying no.