The United States prevents Cuba and Venezuela from participating in the Summit of the Americas; Mexican leader sitting

The White House on Monday excluded Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua from this week’s Summit of the Americas hosted by the United States, prompting the Mexican president to carry out a threat to skip the event because all countries. In the Western Hemisphere they are not invited.

The boycott of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and some other leaders may downplay the summit in Los Angeles, as the United States aims to tackle regional immigration and economic challenges. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, hopes to repair Latin American relations damaged under his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, and reassert US influence and counter the invasions of China.

A senior US official said the decision to isolate Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua came after weeks of intense deliberation and was due to concerns about human rights and the lack of democracy in the three countries.

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State Department spokesman Ned Price said the Biden administration “understands” Mexico’s position, but “one of the key elements of this summit is democratic governance, and these countries are not models, to put it mildly.”

Biden’s aides were aware of pressure from Republicans and some Democrats against appearing too soft on America’s main left-wing opponents in Latin America. Miami’s large Cuban-American community, which has favored Trump’s harsh policies toward Cuba and Venezuela, is seen as an important voting bloc in Florida in the November elections that will decide control of the US Congress, which is now in the hands of Democrats.

Lopez Obrador told reporters that his foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, would attend the summit in his place. The Mexican president said he will meet Biden in Washington next month, which the White House has confirmed. Read more

“There can be no Summit of the Americas if not all the countries of the American continent participate,” Lopez Obrador said.

Lopez Obrador’s absence from the meeting, which Biden is set to open Wednesday, raises questions about summit discussions focused on curbing immigration at the southern US border, a priority for Biden and a diplomatic embarrassment for the United States.

A caravan of several thousand migrants, many of them from Venezuela, set off from southern Mexico early Monday with the goal of reaching the United States. Read more

But a senior administration official stresses that Lopez Obrador’s absence will not hinder Biden’s presentation of the regional immigration initiative. The White House expects at least 23 heads of state and government, which the official said would be in line with previous summits.

US Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat and chair of the Senate’s powerful Foreign Relations Committee, criticized the Mexican president, saying his “decision to stand by tyrants and tyrants” would harm US-Mexico relations.

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Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing populist and Trump admirer who leads Latin America’s most populous country, will attend, after initially courting. Read more

The exclusions of Venezuela and Nicaragua have been reported in recent weeks. Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said last month that he would not go even if invited, accusing the United States of applying “brutal pressure” to make the summit non-exhaustive.

Cuba called Monday’s decision “discriminatory and unacceptable” and said the United States underestimated support in the region for the island nation.

The United States invited some Cuban civil society activists to attend, but several said on social media that Cuban state security had prevented them from traveling to Los Angeles. Read more

Price said that after dismissing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the Biden administration expects representatives from opposition leader Juan Guaido to attend. He declined to say whether their participation would be personal or virtual.

Asked if Biden had phoned Guaido during the summit, the senior administration official said there was a good chance he would “get engaged,” but declined to go into details.

Washington recognizes Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela, after it condemned Maduro’s 2018 re-election as a hoax. But some countries in the region remained stuck with Maduro.

Also barred from attending the summit was Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, a former Marxist fighter who won a fourth consecutive term in November after his rivals were jailed.

Most leaders have indicated they will attend, but the response of left-led governments suggests that many in Latin America are no longer willing to follow Washington’s lead as they were in the past.

Faced with low expectations for the summit’s accomplishments, US officials have begun to preview Biden’s upcoming initiatives. These include the Americas Partnership for Epidemic Recovery, which will entail investments and supply chain strengthening, reform of the Inter-American Development Bank, and a $300 million commitment to regional food security.

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(Reporting by Matt Spatalnick in Washington and Dave Graham in Mexico City) Additional reporting by Humira Pamuk, Eric Petsch and Patricia Gingerli in Washington, Kylie Madre and Lisbeth Diaz in Mexico City, Jose Torres in Tapachula and Dave Sherwood in Havana; Written by Ted Hesson. Editing by Grant McCall, Alistair Bell and Leslie Adler

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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