Saturday, October 1, 2022

The Summit of the Americas: Migration, Oceans… and Exclusion

The Summit of the Americas, which took place in Los Angeles from June 6th to 10th, concluded with the Los Angeles Declaration. A historic document signed by 20 countries from the Western Hemisphere and Spain in response to the humanitarian challenge posed by millions of migrants in the region.

But from the first day, the Summit was involved in controversy due to the unacceptable exclusion of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

The subject of this controversy is not new. In June 2012, at the Summit of the Americas that took place in Cartagena, Colombia, the same concern about the exclusion of Cuba had been raised. Then, it seemed that the Caribbean country would never again be excluded from the Summits. But changes in the regional political equation in the following years and new political priorities played against the efforts of the ALBA countries.

The United States as Judge

It is unquestionable that countries can have their own views regarding the political systems of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. For some they are dictatorships; for others, progressive governments. What is inconceivable is for the United States, or any other country for that matter, to set itself up as a moral judge and exclude them from an inter-American institution that is supposed to be inclusive.

International organizations (especially since the League of Nations that was so passionately promoted by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson after World War I) have their raison d´étre so countries with different ideologies and political systems can discuss their differences to avoid an aggravation of crises that sporadically arise in international relations.

The president of Argentina, Alberto Fernández, summed up the sentiment of many of the region’s leaders:

“We definitely would have wanted another Summit of the Americas. The silence of the absent challenges us. So that this does not happen again, I would like to make it clear for the future that the fact of being the Summit´s host country does not grant the ability to impose a right of admission on the member countries of the continent,” said Fernández. “Dialogue in diversity is the best instrument to promote democracy, modernization and the fight against inequality.”

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The Electoral Mathematics

The most unfortunate thing is that the exclusion of Cuba is not exclusively determined by ideological differences. If that was the case, how can we explain our relationship with the People’s Republic of China? Don´t we consistently accuse China of gross human rights violations? Don´t we express our protest to what we perceive as expansionist military tactics in the South China Sea? But, at the same time, we have no quarrels in maintaining diplomatic relations with their Communist government, and sharing membership in international institutions such as the United Nations.

As many political analysts have suggested, the fundamental reason for the Cuban exclusion (a country with which the United States also maintains diplomatic relations), is motivated by domestic politics. More specifically, considerations related to the recalcitrantly anti-Castro Cuban community in Miami, which continues to be an important factor in the national electoral equation. Something more than relevant in this year of legislative elections in which the polls do not seem to favor the ruling party.

Los Angeles Declaration

Although the Summit did not include leaders who boycotted the event, especially Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, almost all the countries of the Western Hemisphere (including Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador) sent ministers and technical teams that participated in the discussions and signed the Los Angeles Declaration.

Summit of the Americas, Los Angeles, USA, June 8, 2022. PHOTO: MPI

The Declaration, which focuses on migration, was a priority for the United States. It promotes multilateral solutions to the great dilemma of the millions of Latin American and Caribbean people who have left their countries due to violence, corruption, poverty, and natural disasters.

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The United States has pledged to provide $340 million in humanitarian aid, and will accept 11,500 Central American and Haitian migrants.

Mexico will organize a temporary work program for between 15,000 and 20,000 Guatemalans, with a view to expanding it to include Hondurans and Salvadorans.

Canada will contribute $27 million in humanitarian aid, and Spain will double the number of visas for Honduran workers.

But as everyone seems to agree, the efforts of governments will never be enough without the essential contribution of the private sector. In that sense, the Summit of the Americas included parallel meetings in which key business leaders announced important investments in the region. Especially in the Central American Northern Triangle, which due to migration patterns seems to be at the top of U.S. concerns.

Kamala Harris and the Partnership for Central America

In a meeting at the Intercontinental Hotel, Vice President Kamala Harris, in charge of immigration issues within the Biden Administration, announced that the Partnership for Central America would add another $2 billion to her Call to Action.

Since May of last year, the Partnership has already managed to get international companies to invest $3.2 billion in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

Vice President Kamala Harris with Aja Banga and Jonathan Fantini-Porter (left.) at the Partnership for Central America meeting, in the IX Summit of the Americas. Los Angeles, June 6, 2022. PHOTO: PCA

The vice president also announced the launch of “In Her Hands: Creating Opportunities for Women,” a program which aims to focus efforts on women in the Northern Triangle countries.

Leticia D., part of a group of women who wore their colorful traditional costumes, had just arrived from Guatemala to participate in the Summit. She spoke about the effectiveness of the Partnership’s work in her community:

“It is a very important effort because it brings together several businessmen interested in contributing to the integral development of the region…”, said Leticia. “We faithfully believe in economic empowerment, in the political participation of women, of youth, of indigenous peoples. For this reason, we see this space of the Partnership for Central America as a great opportunity.”

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Guatemalans at the Partnership for Central America meeting during the Summit of the Americas 2022, Los Angeles, USA. FOTO: NF

The Environment and the Oceans

Another important agreement signed by nine countries participating in the Summit was related to the protection of the oceans.

“Today is a very good day for the conservation of the oceans, but also for humanity,” said the president of Chile, Gabriel Boric. “We are going to work for the establishment of a series of marine protected areas that are going to be ecologically interconnected, advancing towards regional strategies for the conservation of the oceans.”

A Democratic Latin America

President Joe Biden closed the meeting emphasizing the importance of the region.

“There is no reason why the Western Hemisphere should not be the most progressive, the most democratic, the most prosperous, the most peaceful and the safest region in the world,” said President Biden.

But while Biden articulated his vision for the hemisphere and the presidents and prime ministers signed agreements and declarations, in some streets of Los Angeles there were protesters with signs and flags reminding them that the exclusion of Cuba and other countries must be addressed.

“It’s not fair that the United States decides who comes and who doesn’t come,” said Elías Hinojosa, who was protesting on the corner of South Figueroa and 8th Street. “Is it a Summit of the Americas or a Summit of the United States?”

This article was originally published in Medium on June 20, 2022.

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Co-editor of HISPANIC LA, and Adjunct Professor of Sociology at Rio Hondo College, Whittier, CA.

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