Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador confirmed Monday that he will boycott President Biden’s Summit of the Americas after the US refused to invite the authoritarian leftist leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
López Obrador’s withdrawal from the Los Angeles summit belies White House hopes that the five-day event would highlight warmer relations between the US and Latin America after former President Donald Trump clashed with the region’s leaders over illegal immigration and drugs.
“There can’t be a Summit of the Americas if all the countries of the continent don’t participate,” López Obrador told reporters in Spanish, making good on his threat to skip the event. “That would be to continue with the old interventionist policy of lack of respect for nations and their people.”
The Mexican president’s boycott deprives the summit of one of the region’s most recognizable and influential leaders — though Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro still are expected to attend.
Mexico is the third-most populous country in the Americas after the US and Brazil and is the gateway to the southern US border, where illegal immigration arrests have hit four-decade highs.
For weeks, the Biden administration sidestepped questions about whether the US would invite the trio of despots to placate Mexico — while also announcing the softening of US sanctions against Cuba and Venezuela.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said last week that the summit would address a range of Biden and US priorities.
“People from around the region are gathering together to address the core challenges facing the people of the hemisphere — right? — including economic prosperity, climate change, migration crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic,” Jean-Pierre said.
The Summit of the Americas generally happens every three years. The most recent summit was in Lima, Peru, in 2018, after summits in Panama in 2015 and Cartagena, Colombia, in 2012.
The PR black eye for Biden comes as his administration seeks Mexican help to stem illegal immigration. The administration is seeking to end the Title 42 COVID-19 policy that allows for the rapid deportation of most migrants, and an even greater border rush is expected if courts allow it to be rescinded.
Trump, by contrast, frequently exacted concessions from Latin American leaders by threatening to yank foreign aid or otherwise punish non-cooperation with US priorities.
In March 2019, Trump froze $450 million in foreign aid to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. He said the countries did too little to reduce migration to the US and argued the money was “probably just stolen” by corrupt leaders anyhow.
Even longtime US partners weren’t spared from Trump’s tough tactics. In 2017, Trump threatened to decertify Colombia as a drug war partner over cocaine production, and in 2020, he bluntly told Colombian President Ivan Duque he had to do more to reduce the prevalence of the drug when he visited the White House.
In 2020, Trump signed a new trade pact among the US, Canada and Mexico that reformed the 1994 NAFTA agreement — after raising tariffs against goods from the neighboring countries and at one point even threatening to close the US-Mexico border to trade over migration.