President Biden tried to bring a message of unity to the Sumit of the Americas in Los Angeles on Thursday, but he faced criticism from Latin American leaders for not inviting certain countries.
The US didn’t invite Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba, prompting Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to boycott the summit, although he did send his foreign minister to represent Mexico. The leaders of Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Guatemala, and Honduras followed López Obrador in not attending the event.
Shortly after Biden delivered remarks on Thursday, Belize’s Prime Minister John Briceno harshly criticized the US for not inviting some countries. “This summit belongs to all of the Americas — it is therefore inexcusable that there are countries of the Americas that are not here, and the power of the summit is diminished by their absence,” he said.
Briceno also slammed the US blockade on Cuba as an “affront to humanity” and called for it to be lifted. “In fact, it is un-American. The time has come, Mr. President, to lift the blockade,” he said to Biden.
Argentine President Alberto Fernandez joined Briceno in criticizing the summit. “We definitely would have wished for a different Summit of the Americas,” he said. “The silence of those who are absent is calling to us.”
Speaking later in the day, Biden tried to brush off the criticism. “Notwithstanding some of the disagreements relating to participation, on the substantive matters what I heard was almost uniformity,” he said.
The idea of the summit was for the US to use it as an opportunity to counter Chinese influence in Latin America. “We want to make sure our closest neighbors have a real choice between the debt trap development that has become … more and more common in the region,” Biden said in a reference to China.
The US often accuses China of so-called “debt-trap diplomacy” and discourages other countries from doing business with Beijing. But as the disagreements over the guest list demonstrated, the US policy of isolating and sanctioning governments that don’t fall in line is damaging US credibility in the region and around the globe.