Latin American immigrants will raise protests at Summit of the Americas in L.A.

A few days before the Summit of the Americas opened in Los Angeles, Martha Peinado grabbed some billboards and a handful of marker pens to deliver an enthusiastically dismissive message to El Salvador President Nayib Bukele.

Peinado, 38, who immigrated to California from her native El Salvador in 2015, and two other activists have designed a dozen placards they plan to wave at the LA Convention Center next week, where the five-day gathering of hemisphere leaders will begin Monday.

“Nayib Bukele, the US judiciary awaits you,” warned a salute in black ink on orange billboards.

Peinado, originally from Salvador’s La Libertad province, was a member of the New Ideas party, which Bukele brought to power on a populist wave of disgust at El Salvador’s two-party status quo. But in the three years that Bukele has ruled the Central American nation, Peinado said democracy has withered while corruption and insecurity have simmered, due in part to the government’s secretive negotiations with gang leaders.

“We will protest because what was promised has not been fulfilled,” said Peinado, who immigrated to California in 2015 and runs a cleaning business in Mid-City. “We want to show that what the President is saying about the country being safer is not true and show that there is a lot of corruption behind him.”

For the first time since its inaugural session in 1994, the summit will take place in the richest and most powerful nation in the hemisphere. But a lot has changed in the nearly three decades since those days in Miami. Buoyancy over the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement known as NAFTA has all but disappeared on both sides of the Rio Grande. China, pushing ahead with its aggressive “Belt and Road” initiative, threatens US hegemony in Latin America, which dates back to the Monroe Doctrine. Then-President Trump skipped the previous session of the summit in Lima, Peru, in 2018 and sent Vice President Mike Pence in his place.

As of Wednesday, the Biden administration had yet to confirm the official guest list, and it was not clear if Bukele would attend or join the heads of state of Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and other countries that the US has either not invited or is boycotting Event. But whatever countries emerge in Southern California, they could find themselves at the center of bitter political struggles that they thought had left them at home.

El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele addresses the United Nations General Assembly in 2019

El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele addresses the United Nations General Assembly in 2019.

(Richard Drew/Associated Press)

Few disputes within LA’s Latin American immigrant communities are more violent than those between Bukele friends and Bukele enemies. Critics of the bitcoin-loving, media-hating autocrat have vowed to gather at the convention center at 9 a.m. Monday. César Fuentes, a political activist and founder of the Libertarian Movement, broadcast the call to action live on his Facebook account, where he has more than 17,000 followers.

“The summit would be an opportunity for President Bukele to return to the rule of law, something he has so badly overruled, and for him to redirect his efforts towards democracy,” said Fuentes, one of Peinado’s poster-making colleagues. “If he doesn’t come, he just closes the doors because he’s practically isolated.”

Since its inception, the Summit has served as a gathering for the nations of the Western Hemisphere to address challenges as a region, to promote economic growth and prosperity “based on shared democratic values ​​and a promise to increase trade to improve the quality of life of all peoples, ‘ as his goals are optimistically framed on the US State Department’s website.

But whatever happens at the convention center, there are signs that disagreements and disharmony could emerge next week in LA neighborhoods like Westlake-MacArthur Park, a frequent haunt of Latin American politicians manifestations.

Germán Peña, president of the Nicaraguan American Opportunity Foundation, or NAOF, an organization founded in 1996 and headquartered in East Los Angeles, said his group will resurrect next week and display years-old banners of readings “Rescatemos Nicaragua” (Rescue Nicaragua).

“We’re going to dust them off,” said the Masaya native of the Nicaraguan city, a longtime opposition stronghold that has made it the target of brutal crackdowns by Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua’s former left-wing guerrilla leader and now its autocratic president.

Marta Peinado, a Salvadoran immigrant, makes protest signs denouncing El Salvador President Nayib Bukele.

Marta Peinado, a Salvadoran immigrant, makes protest signs denouncing El Salvador President Nayib Bukele.

(Sarahi Apaez / For the Times)

Peña calls on his compatriots to gather at the convention center on Tuesday morning to denounce the Ortega regime in absentia.

“Unfortunately, [Ortega] won’t be there,” Peña said. “Many of us are fighting in different parts of the world to restore democracy to Nicaragua.”

Miguel Tinker Salas, a Venezuelan historian and professor at Pomona College in Claremont, said the Biden administration wants to use the summit to rally support for its immigration policies and more generally to try to restore the economic and political position of the United States leadership. But those efforts could founder if prominent dignitaries like Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador cancel the event.

“It will be an America Summit in name and nothing more,” he said.

“López Obrador’s position demonstrated the break in hegemony that the United States exercised when the Summit began in 1994,” Tinker Salas continued. “Now it’s a different Latin America, and the United States still doesn’t understand that. The United States is no longer the make-and-break empire.”

Echoing López Obrador’s insistence that the summit should be open to Cuba, Venezuela and other nations at odds with the United States, pro-immigrant organizations and supporters of the Mexican president will gather in Pershing Square on Thursday morning, to go to the convention center, then hold a protest at the corner of Pico Boulevard and Figueroa Street.

Juan José Gutiérrez, President of Vamos Unidos USA, said 30 Mexican and Central American organizations have confirmed their participation in the demonstration, which aims to shed a global spotlight on the United States’ decades-long failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform.

“Where is that will to legislate and push aside all these issues that have been preventing us from making any real progress on immigration reform?” Gutierrez said. “You have to get out of politics that Latin America is the backyard of the United States.”

Demonstrators in Guatemala

Protesters in Guatemala are calling for a nationwide strike to urge President Alejandro Giammattei to step down in 2021.

(Moises Castillo/Associated Press)

While some protesters will call on the United States to stop interfering in the affairs of its neighbors, others will urge the US to play a more assertive role in promoting democracy and human rights.

Mario Ávila, a survivor of government-sponsored torture in Guatemala, believes President Alejandro Giammattei will not attend the summit. But Ávila hopes the other participants at the summit will pressure the Biden administration to sanction Guatemalan officials linked to organized crime and who have looted the state coffers.

“We do not believe that the United States will continue to support a government that does not respect human rights,” the Guatemalan community organizer said. “This summit will serve to make our protest visible.”

Some experts predicted that the planned demonstrations would have little impact on the summit or its aftermath.

But Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda, a UCLA professor of political science, said while protests might not sway assembled leaders, they will resonate in ways that transcend borders.

“Everyone knows the media is here in Los Angeles and that media’s ability to cover protests is much broader and they have much more broadcasting capacity, even more than a protest that can be held in their home countries,” he said. “Los Angeles has always played this role of criticism, protest and alternative propositions.”

Hinojosa-Ojeda said the summit is a challenge for Washington to initiate a different kind of dialogue and relationship with Latin America, in contrast to conditions 30 years ago, when the United States’ “natural allies” were oligarchies and right-wing militaries.

“The only way to resume dialogue between the United States and Latin America must be based on fairer treatment,” he said. Latin American immigrants will raise protests at Summit of the Americas in L.A.

Alley Einstein

Alley Einstein is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Alley Einstein joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing

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