Biden to Host Summit of the Americas: Dwell Updates

Recognition…Luis Antonio Rojas for the New York Times

LOS ANGELES — Ahead of the Summit of the Americas, the Biden administration struggled to avoid the embarrassment of a boycott by key leaders — only to find its overtures rejected.

American officials have been negotiating with the Mexican government for weeks to find a way to lure President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to the Los Angeles meeting. Vice President Kamala Harris called the Honduran leader to persuade her to come. Top aides were dispatched to try to persuade the leaders of El Salvador and Guatemala.

Nothing worked. Heads of state from all four countries have declined to attend the meeting, a blow to Mr Biden at a moment he was trying to project unity and common purpose across the western hemisphere.

Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele didn’t even want to make a phone call to Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, said four people familiar with the operation and not authorized to speak publicly.

The absences have cast doubt on the relevance of a summit meant to demonstrate cooperation between neighbors but has instead been vocal in spreading rifts in a region increasingly willing to defy American leadership.

“It shows the deep divisions on the continent,” said Martha Bárcena, the former Mexican ambassador to the United States. The leaders who chose not to attend, Ms Bárcena said, “challenge US influence because US influence on the continent has decreased.”

The Biden administration has said that much can be accomplished without a president at the table, since secretaries of state sent in their stead are just as capable of signing deals.

“The US remains the strongest force in advancing hemispheric action to address the key challenges facing the people of America,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday.

But while the region’s no-shows are boycotting for different reasons, they all seem to be venting their anger at the way the government wields power.

Mr López Obrador cabled for weeks that he would not attend unless the government invited Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. Left-wing President of Honduras Xiomara Castro joined his platoon and said she would also withdraw unless the meeting included those countries.

Leaving them out of the summit, López Obrador said, “means continuing the old politics of interventionism, lack of respect for nations and their people.”

The leaders of Guatemala and El Salvador seemed more concerned about their own relationship with the United States than the guest list.

After taking office, the Biden administration in both countries went on the offensive against corruption, sanctioning high-ranking officials and calling out alleged efforts by the two Central American governments to weaken democratic institutions.

Guatemala’s President Alejandro Giammattei said he would not be going to the summit a day after Mr Blinken said his government’s Attorney General was implicated in “substantial corruption”.

“I have communicated that I am not going,” Giammattei said, adding: “As long as I am president, this country will be respected and its sovereignty will be respected.”

Mr Bukele has not made his reasoning public, but people familiar with the Salvadoran president’s mindset say he failed to see the point of handshakes and photo ops when dialogue between the two countries was so fundamentally fractured.

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