In Los Angeles last week the “Summit of the Americas” met Christopher Sabatini’s gloomy prediction. He wrote in the May issue of Foreign Policy magazine that the U.S. was “woefully unprepared” for this year’s summit and that it “may be interpreted as a gravestone on U.S. influence in the region.”
Christopher Sabatini is the Senior Fellow for Latin America at Chatham House in London. He is an American. Chatham House is the home of the Royal Institute for International Affairs founded in 1920, a year before the founding in 1921 of its American counterpart, the Council on Foreign Relations, in New York City.
Chatham House is located on St. James Square in what was once the home of William Pitt, the 1st Earl of Chatham (1708-1778). William Pitt “the elder” was the Whig politician known as the “Great Commoner.” He is credited with the birth of the British Empire as a result of his support for military (and trade) campaigns in India, Canada, West Africa, and the West Indies.
Los Angeles was not an objective of Chatham’s expansive imperial ambition. In the 18th century it was part of Spanish “New Spain” and was a territory where intrepid Spanish missionaries established outposts on the far northern Pacific frontier of what is now Mexico. California was incorporated as a state into the United States in 1850.
The current president of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, better known by his initials AMLO, refused to participate in the Los Angeles summit. This was because the president of Cuba, Diaz Canel, had not been invited.
Cuba was another part of the former Spanish empire in the Americas “liberated” from Spain in part by the actions of Teddy Roosevelt and his “Rough Riders” in 1889.
Nicolas Maduro of oil rich Venezuela and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua were also excluded by the Biden administration on the grounds that their counties were not sufficiently “democratic.”
Which meant that the “Summit of the Americas” in Los Angeles was always going to be a summit of only “part” of the Americas.
The Prime Minister of Belize John Briceno told Biden that the summit should “belong to all of the Americas” and that “geography not politics” should define the Americas.
Joe Biden had been hoping, inconsistently, that Venezuela might help provide more oil and gas in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He was asked at the press conference in Los Angeles why he was going to Saudi Arabia to visit Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman not exactly known for his democratic credentials. It was a geo-strategic decision the state department said.
Alberto Fernandez, the President of Argentina, who did attend the Los Angeles summit, also said that Venezuela had been “helping to fuel the continent as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.” Biden had recently promised US$40 billion to Ukraine. For Latin America Biden promised less than US$4 billion at Los Angeles .
The objectives of the summit were the all too familiar platitudes American Administration’s tend to come up with when they are forced to pay attention to their southern neighbors.
But Biden was singularly banal.
He reverted to citing his “Grandpop Finnegan’s” and his grandmother’s admonitions to him as a child to “Joey, keep, the faith.” It is not at all clear what the Latin Americans gathered in Los Angeles made of this homespun hooky.
His administration was little better prepared. Biden’s nominee to be the U.S. representative to the OAS (The Organisation American States), Frank O. Mora, who served in the defense department under President Obama has still not been approved by the Senate where he is opposed by Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fl) and where the chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez (D-NJ) has not yet said it if he will support the nomination.
Latin America is always a bipartisan domestic policy issue as far as Hispanic elected politicians are concerned, something the eternal old senate hand Joe Biden should have known.
Moreover ambassadorial nominees have still not been approved for several key Latin American countries, including most importantly Brazil, Latin America’s most important economy, and a country which faces a critical presidential election later this year.
Among the Latin America presidents not present in Los Angeles were the three presidents from the “northern triangle” of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, all counties that a key source of migrates on the southern border of the U.S.
As the meeting in Los Angeles was taking place another huge caravan of people was making its way across the southern border of Mexico en route to the Texas border. Migration was supposedly one of the topics discussed at Los Angeles but migration from Central America via Mexico remains one of the Biden administration’s thorniest domestic challenges.
The agreement reached at the end of the summit — the “Los Angeles Declaration on Migration” – commits the U.S. to receive 20.000 refugees from the Western Hemisphere per year. But as Ivan Duque the President of Colombia pointed out his country had received one million Venezuelans in the last 14 months and processed 800,000 applicants. In Britain so far this year more than 10,000 “unlawful” migrants have crossed the English Channel in inflatable dinghies. The Los Angeles Declaration is a pinprick and will not solve a major international challenge of the continuing impact of mass migration on the southern U.S. border.
Joe Biden, however, did have his first meeting with the far-right Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, the “Trump of the Tropics,” who after much persuasion and the promise of a bilateral meeting with Biden decided to come to Los Angeles. Bolsonaro had recently questioned the legitimacy of Biden’s election victory over Trump and mocked Biden’s age. He has suggested that the Brazilian electoral system could be rigged against him. Many in Brazil fear that Bolsonaro will take a page out of the Trump’s playbook and deny that he has lost the upcoming presidential election where he faces Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the working class former president who is currently running well ahead of him in the opinion polls.
Bolsonaro after his meeting with Joe Biden said that he was “amazed” by his meeting with Biden. That it was “sensational” and was “way better than he had expected.”
But China was the real elephant in the room at Los Angeles and was barely mentioned.
China’s trade with Latin America was worth U.S.$18 billion in 2002. In 2022 it was worth US$449 billion.
China is now the first trading partner of Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Peru. It has invested in copper, lithium, soy and corn. It has developed infrastructure and financial agreements.
China is the leading member of the BRICS. It will not lecture others on the environment as John Kerry did in Los Angeles. It will deal with democracies as well as authoritarian regimes.
And it has conducted a highly effective and discrete policy with Latin American think tanks and academics.
Latin Americans have been virtually silent on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Bolsonaro who visited Vladimir Putin on the eve of the invasion of Ukraine would not say anything critical of Russia in Los Angeles.
The Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles was as Lucia Newman of Aljazeera had predicted “a fiasco, a flop, a disappointment.”
Not quite on the scale of Biden’s chaotic retreat from Afghanistan last year, but pretty close in what it says about the future U.S. relations with what Washington still likes to think of paternally as its “back yard.”
It was summed up by the free bag of goodies handed out to the attendees at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles courtesy of Joe Biden, Sundar Pichai, the head of Google, and Nick Glegg, the number 3 at META and a former British Deputy Prime Minster. In the gift bag was a pair of U..S Chamber of Commerce branded sunglasses and a water bottle. Both of them were made in China.
Then Bolsonaro fresh from his bilateral meeting with Joe Biden at the summit in Los Angeles went to Orlando, Florida, where the Brazilian president on his motorcycle joined a bikers festival with Allan dos Santos, a fugitive from the Brazilian police for his attacks on the Brazilian Supreme Court. Allan dos Santos is a far-right Bolsonaro supporting blogger with 500,000 followers. It is surprising Bolsonaro did not meet his old friend Donald Trump while he was in the neighborhood.
Editor’s Note: Here is the U.S. State Department announcement of the Ninth Summit of the Americas:
Ninth Summit of the Americas
“Building a Sustainable, Resilient, and Equitable Future”
The United States developed the theme for the Ninth Summit with the region’s governments, civil society, and private sector, and the thirteen international organizations that comprise the Joint Summit Working Group and support the summit process).
People, institutions, and governments across our hemisphere have shared with us their priorities and concerns, and these include the COVID-19 pandemic and the cracks it exposed in health, economic, educational, and social systems; they include threats to democracy; the climate crisis; and a lack of equitable access to economic, social, and political opportunities that places a heavy burden on the most vulnerable and underrepresented among us.
The success of the summit will depend on adoption of an ambitious and action-oriented agenda, and on implementation of the commitments leaders make in Los Angeles in June to address these challenges.
The convening of the Ninth Summit of the Americas will take place in June 2022 in Los Angeles, California, our second largest city and one with deep and robust ties throughout our hemisphere.
Los Angeles is home to the largest Hispanic/Latino community in the United States. With more than 224 languages spoken, a population representing 140 countries, and established government, business, and people-to-people ties with communities across the Americas, the diversity and connectivity of Los Angeles shows our hemisphere and the world the best of American society and will foster an inclusive environment for all summit participants.
Los Angeles is the busiest port in the Western Hemisphere, with the hospitality infrastructure to reflect that. LA also hosts the 3rd largest consular corps in the world. The U.S. will leverage these logistical attributes to ensure a safe, healthy, and seamless Summit planning process.
The Ninth Summit = Leaders Summit + Stakeholder Forums
As Chair of the Ninth Summit process, the United States currently leads efforts with governments and stakeholders across the region to address these challenges through the Summit Process. Throughout, the United States has demonstrated, and will continue to demonstrate, our commitment to an inclusive process that incorporates input from people and institutions that represent the immense diversity of our hemisphere, and includes indigenous and other historically marginalized voices.
In addition to the Leaders Summit hosted by President Biden, and in the spirit of fostering a more inclusive summit, the United States Department of State will host three official stakeholder forums at the Summit:
- The Ninth Civil Society Forum,
- The Sixth Young Americas Forum, and
- The Fourth CEO Summit of the Americas.
Each forum will foster greater dialogue between heads of government and the people and businesses of the Americas to address hemispheric challenges and opportunities including social inclusion, economic recovery, climate change, democracy, digital transformation, and democracy.
What is the Summit of the Americas?
Only the Summit of the Americas brings together leaders from the countries of North, South, and Central America, and the Caribbean. The Summit, and its stakeholder forums, promote cooperation towards region-wide, inclusive economic growth and prosperity based on our shared respect for democracy, fundamental freedoms, the dignity of labor, and free enterprise.
Civil society organizations, representatives of indigenous communities, civic leaders, and business executives and young entrepreneurs also meet at each Summit, promoting dialogue and developing plans of action to address the challenges and opportunities facing the people of the Americas. The nation that hosts the Summit of the Americas serves as the Chair of the Summit process; the previous host serves as Vice Chair.
Each Summit focuses on critical area of cooperation of interest to all the countries in the Americas. This has allowed us to work together to promote democracy and human rights, increase economic competitiveness, promote development, improve access to clean energy and communication technology, strengthen regional security, and counter illicit trafficking. Most recently, leaders committed to fighting the corruption that undermines democratic governance when they met at the Eighth Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru in 2018.
History of the Summit & Past Summits
U.S. President Bill Clinton convened the first Summit of the Americas in Miami, Florida, in December 1994 to promote economic growth and prosperity throughout the Americas based on shared democratic values and the promise of increased trade and commerce to improve the quality of life for all peoples and preserve the hemisphere’s natural resources for future generations. The 1994 Summit was the first hemispheric summit since 1967, when Uruguay hosted most of the region’s leaders, but did not include Canada and much of the Caribbean. The subsequent regular summits have taken place in Santiago, Chile (1998), Quebec City, Canada (2001), Mar del Plata, Argentina (2005), Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago (2009), Cartagena, Colombia (2012), Panama City, Panama (2015), and Lima, Peru (2018). Special summits took place in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia (1996), and Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico (2004).
The United States currently serves as Chair of the Summit’s deliberative body, the Summit Implementation Review Group (SIRG). The Summit has taken place approximately once every three years since 1994 and is the only meeting of all leaders from the countries of North, South, and Central America and the Caribbean. This will be the first time the United States has hosted the Summit since the inaugural meeting in Miami, in 1994.
For more on past Summits, see the official Summit Secretariat’s website.
The Summit Process – Who participates? What do they do?
The Summit of the Americas process brings our hemisphere together, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, but remains a process independent of any other international organization. Leaders and stakeholders convene across a comprehensive and inclusive framework that also distinguishes the Summit of the Americas from any other international Summit process:
- Heads of state and government, foreign ministers, and other senior officials from the governments of the Americas attend the Summit of the Americas and associated forums at the invitation of the host government. The President or Vice President of the United States has attended all the Summits of the Americas.
- Heads of international organizations comprising the Joint Summit Working Group, the thirteen multilateral institutions and development finance institutions committed to supporting the Summit process. You can find additional information about the Joint Summit Working Group on the Summit Secretariat website.
- National Coordinators. The Summit Implementation Review Group (SIRG) is the core management body of the Summits Process and is comprised of government officials of the countries of the hemisphere, which are represented in the SIRG by their appointed National Coordinators.
- The OAS’ Summit of the Americas Secretariat –– The leaders of our hemisphere charged the Organization of American States with hosting the Summits of the Americas Secretariat, which serves in the important institutional role of supporting and ensuring the Summit of the Americas process.
- The people and the businesses of the Americas (“Stakeholders”) — The private sector, civil society representatives, and historically marginalized and vulnerable groups have long been a part of the official summit process, principally through the Civil Society Forum, the Young Americas Forum, and the CEO Summit of the America, but also through additional forums. Learn more at our official stakeholder page for the 9th Summit.