The United States (US), will host the ninth summit of the Americas from 6–10 June 2022, with the objective of building a sustainable, resilient, and equitable future in the region. The inaugural Summit was held in the US in 1994 and since then, it has been seen as an important forum for addressing various challenges and opportunities confronting the countries in the Americas.
The US has set out several areas where serious action is required such as COVID-19 pandemic response, climate change, resolving the causes of migration, and building strong democracies. Glaringly absent from this list of priorities are issues of trade, investment and strengthening the economies of the Americas.
One has to remember that the popularity of US leadership in Latin America and the Caribbean had drastically declined during Donald Trump’s presidency. To date, Biden’s approach has lacked the crassness of Trump’s tenure as the new man has sought to restore America’s standing in the world.
However, the Biden administration’s attempt to rebuild US leadership in the hemisphere via the Summit may hit a snag if it maintains its position to exclude some countries from the Summit, notably Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. Many Central and Latin American countries have threatened to forego their participation in the Summit should those countries be excluded. Such a move, if it materialises, could severely impede a successful outcome of the deliberations at the Summit.
Already, the pushback from some countries against the US’ exclusion of a few countries from the Summit has compelled the Biden Administration to dial back on some sanctions. For example, The Biden administration has moved to repeal some of the sanctions on Cuba, including easing travel and remittance flows to the island. The administration also relaxed some restrictions on Venezuela’s energy sector.
These efforts appear to be aimed at salvaging the upcoming summit, especially if some countries follow through on their threats to boycott.
This apparent newfound unity amongst the countries of Central and Latin America and the Caribbean could certainly serve as a blueprint for dealing not only with the US, but also with other major world powers such as the European Union (EU) and China on a host of issues which affect the Americas. For example, such unity can be usefully invoked in addressing systemic concerns around financial blacklisting, climate change and the environment.
Unity across Central and Latin America and the Caribbean can also be used as leverage to extract more from the US. Even as the Biden administration aims to restore leadership and credibility globally, there seems to be a lack of concrete programmes for countries in Central and Latin America and the Caribbean.
For instance, President Biden’s Build Back Better World (B3W) for infrastructure and social welfare projects, and its inducements for countries in the hemisphere are still stuck in the US Senate. For sure, the irony is lost on everyone that even as the US seems to push a democracy agenda at the Summit, its own democratic system is in a quagmire.
The Summit also provides an opportune moment for countries to signal to the US, that the hemisphere’s agenda cannot be solely dictated by America’s priorities. The US threat to exclude some countries from the summit hark back to the days when its foreign policy goals were treated as a fait accompli for everyone else.
To their credit, many countries in the hemisphere are much more confident in the exercise of their foreign policy and are much more assured about their sovereignty. Sometimes, even the world’s single most powerful country needs a reminder that it should deal with fellow sovereigns as sovereigns in their own right.