The Los Angeles Convention Center displays a large poster with the logo of the IX Summit of the Americas on its façade. These types of events do not usually give many real results. They are more symbolic than anything else, they try to seek consensus in some declarations of intentions and good intentions. However, what had never happened until now was that the feeling of failure of the summit was generalized before it began. And even less so that it was not because of the agenda of topics to be discussed, but because of the list of attendees. The expected absences and the division generated by the invitations generate skepticism about the possibility of reaching relevant agreements on one of the most pressing problems: the migration crisis.
Washington has not yet announced its guest list one day before it all begins. Summit dates are June 6-10. Starting this Monday, forums for civil society, business managers and young people are launched. But the opening ceremony with the president of the United States, Joe Biden, and the leaders attending the summit is not scheduled until Wednesday, so the agonizing debate about the attendees may continue for a little longer.
The president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, continues to strip the daisy. Diplomatic personnel assured this newspaper that they expected the president to give signs this past Friday about his participation in the summit. The politician has conditioned his participation to the invitation of all the nations in the area, including the leaders of Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba. In the end there was no clarity in the more than two hours of his daily conference. At the moment, on the Mexican side, only the presence of the foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, has been confirmed. Arguments like the one used by López Obrador have also been used by the presidents of Bolivia, Luis Arce; Guatemala, Alejandro Giammattei; and Honduras, Xiomara Castro, to excuse herself from attending the meeting.
Avoid disaster with the presence of Brazil and Argentina
The White House has managed to win the participation of the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, by offering him a bilateral meeting with Biden in Los Angeles that recognizes him special treatment as a great regional power. The president of Argentina, Alberto Fernández, has been attracted by calling for an official visit to Washington next month. Although Fernández says that he is going to take the position of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the truth is that his presence and that of Bolsonaro avoid a complete disaster. “We really trust that the summit will have good attendance,” said Juan González, director for the Western Hemisphere of the National Security Council, last Wednesday.
However, the list of guests and attendees has left the continent divided and in tension. The excluded countries took the opportunity to set up a parallel summit of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (Alba) in Havana, which highlighted the clash with Washington and brought out all its anti-imperialist rhetoric.
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All attention is on López Obrador. The absence of a Mexican president at the first US-hosted regional summit since 1994 would be a major snub. Both nations have had economic and cultural synergy for centuries. Curiously, the relationship between the partners has suffered a noticeable deterioration since Donald Trump left the White House. According to analysts such as Tony Payan, from the Baker Institute of Rice University, some political circles in Washington perceive hostility from the current Mexican Executive. The former Mexican ambassador in Washington Arturo Sarukhan, of the thinktank Brookings, he believes that boycotting the summit would be like scoring an own goal for Mexico from the point of view of its long-term strategic interests.
The foreseeable absence of the Mexican in Los Angeles would eliminate the possibility of an agreement at the highest level on a truth that López Obrador shares with Biden, that migration must be attacked from its root causes. In the first months of the Democratic Administration, Vice President Kamala Harris sent a message from Guatemala that marked the Government: “Don’t come.” Those were the words, said in front of the Guatemalan president, of the person in charge de facto to address the migration crisis.
At the beginning of last month, López Obrador sent a reply from the same area, Central America, addressed to Washington. “The United States is the protagonist of the migratory phenomenon and must, consequently, be co-responsible for giving it a solution, modifying its migratory policies and helping to combat the conditions that force millions to abandon their places of residence,” he said in El Salvador, a stopover in the tour that took him to Guatemala, Honduras and Cuba.
Central role of López Obrador
Although during the first years of his mandate he reneged on any regional leadership, López Obrador has insisted on the halfway point of his mandate in exercising a guide in Central America. In that region he has launched two of his Administration’s social programs, granting 250 dollars (about 233 euros) per month to some 10,000 small farmers and another 180 dollars to 10,000 young people. Days before his tour, the president had demanded from the United States Congress 4,000 million dollars (more than 3,700 million euros) that would be allocated to aid in the area. “The Capitol resolves in a few days to send 30,000 million dollars for the defense of Ukraine and we have spent four years without authorizing the money for Central America… That is what the presidents of the area are asking for, that there be development,” he said.
In his conference with journalists, Juan González recognized last week the need to “address the historic migration crisis of an unprecedented level for the United States.” According to González, the United States authorities “have set to work to mobilize leaders around a new and audacious plan focused on the distribution of responsibilities and economic support to the countries most affected by migratory flows and refugees”. Parallel to the summit, although formally on the sidelines, Biden will join other heads of state “to sign a declaration on migration, sending a strong signal of unity and determination to control the regional migration crisis.” All this occurs when the Haitian and Central American camps begin to fill up on the Mexican border, and the number of illegal crossings threatens to break again the maximum records reached in 2021, with 1.7 million returns of migrants.
Irregular migration affects almost every country in the region, and is often a symptom of other problems, admits Washington. According to González, the declaration will address the issue from “the context of shared responsibility and the need to provide economic support to the countries that have been impacted by the flows of refugees and migration” and taking into account “some of the main drivers of migration, which are the lack of economic opportunities and insecurity”.
González is optimistic about the declaration that is being prepared: “This is something unprecedented, since the leaders of the region that are countries of origin, transit or destination of migration are uniting around a plan that recognizes that the challenge of migration is not on the border with the United States, but extends to all the countries of the Americas.” “We need to work together to address it in a way that treats migrants with dignity, invests in creating opportunities that deter migrants from leaving their homes, and provides the protections migrants deserve,” he adds. At the same time, issues such as access to legal documentation and public services and pathways for legal and orderly migration will be addressed.
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