Mexican president unlikely to attend Americas Summit in L.A.

Despite a great deal of US lobbying, the president of Mexico on Friday clearly indicated that he will not attend a high-level regional summit in Los Angeles next month because the Biden administration refuses to invite a trio of left-wing governments.

Mexico is arguably the key Latin American participant at the upcoming Summit of the Americas, which government officials say will place a special focus on immigration. It starts on June 6th.

In his daily marathon press conference, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said he was still awaiting a response from President Biden or the US State Department to his call for all Western Hemisphere countries to be invited.

Each host nation of the Summit, which takes place every three or four years, is free to make the guest list at its own discretion, and most if not all countries are routinely included. This is the first time the Summit has been held in the United States since its inaugural session in Miami in 1994.

Government officials have made it clear that they will not invite either Venezuela or Nicaragua because the authoritarian leaders of those countries do not represent the model of democracy that Washington and others in the region want to promote.

US officials also initially said they would not invite Cuba, then suggested they could welcome a “low-level” delegation from Havana. However, diminished status did not appeal to Cuban officials, and President Miguel Díaz-Canel said earlier this week that he would not be attending.

Cuba was present at the last two Summits of the Americas in Panama and Peru. In Panama in 2015, then-President Obama shook hands with then-President Raul Castro, the first such contact between Cold War enemies in decades. Months later, Washington and Havana established diplomatic relations and began a warming of trade and travel ties not seen in half a century. The opening was frozen by President Trump and hesitantly and slightly renewed by Biden, despite his promises as a presidential candidate.

López Obrador, a consummate showman, deliberately went uncommitted in his remarks Friday morning, but ultimately made it clear he would not be attending unless Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua were invited. Instead, he would send a delegate, most likely his more US-friendly Secretary of State, Marcelo Ebrard.

“We’ll wait and see what they see [U.S. officials] decide, but Mexico will still participate,” said the President. “It’s just that I won’t be attending unless all countries are invited.”

He added, “What’s that supposed to be, the Summit of the Americas or the Summit of the Friends of America?”

López Obrador, a left-wing populist who has himself begun to show certain authoritarian tendencies, also suggested using the summit to find a replacement for the Organization of American States, the largest regional organization that some see as pro-American. He proposed a new body that represents all countries equally and is not an “appendage” of the great powers.

From today’s perspective, the Washington-based OAS is “a joke, a humiliation”.

Biden’s special envoy for the summit, former Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, spoke at length with López Obrador earlier this month after he first threatened to boycott the week-long conference, and US Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar was arrested on entering seen the Presidential Palace in Mexico City several times in the last week.

Dodd was in Buenos Aires this week trying to prevent a boycott from spreading to other countries. Deputy Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Brian Nichols is in the Caribbean this week, where several nations also said they were staying home in protest from the summit.

And on Friday, a group of Democratic congressmen released a letter telling Biden it was a mistake to remove countries from the guest list.

“While we may not support many of the measures being taken by the governments of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, we believe that a policy of engagement will bring more fruitful results than a continued policy of isolation,” the letter reads.

The group warned that the Biden controversy threatens broader policy goals in the region, including slowing illegal immigration and improving health and development in the hemisphere’s 34 nations.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and State Department spokesman Ned Price have declined to publicly disclose the status of the invitations to the summit, saying the first “tranches” of the invitations have been sent out.

López Obrador, who generally avoids international conferences, said in his comments on Friday that he was not trying to be “confrontational”.

“President Biden is respectful, he always talks to me about respect, sovereignty and believes we should treat each other as equals,” Lopez Obrador said, adding, “Now is not the time to exclude anyone.”

Times contributor Wilkinson reported from Washington and special correspondent Sanchez from Mexico City. Mexican president unlikely to attend Americas Summit in L.A.

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