President Joe Biden gave a forceful speech reaffirming American influence in Latin America at a week-long summit in Los Angeles, but the modesty of his pledges will test his efforts at a time when China makes rapid inroads.
About 20 leaders gathered for the Summit of the Americas where Biden and the rest of the top US brass pledged to do more with them on migration, clean energy and health infrastructure — and charmed guests with lavish receptions worthy of Tinseltown.
Biden said the Americas should be “the most forward-looking, democratic, prosperous, peaceful and secure region in the world.”
“No matter what else happens in the world, the Americas will always be a priority for the United States of America,” Biden said.
But Biden also faced a boycott from Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and open criticism from several leaders, including over the decades-old pressure campaign on Cuba and over whether he would hold his ground. promises.
Next year the United States will mark two centuries since it declared Latin America its exclusive sphere under the Monroe Doctrine, and the cultural ties run deep.
But China – identified by Washington as its main global competitor – quickly became Latin America’s second-largest trading partner and South America’s biggest, shipping commodities including soybeans and oil to the market of more than one billion euros across the Pacific.
The fast-growing communist power has lent some $150 billion to Latin America since 2005, about half of it to Venezuela, offering no political terms but putting some nations in what critics call a debt trap.
Biden at the summit outlined a hemisphere-wide economic “partnership” that will discuss common standards but will not directly commit funding or new market access.
The political mood in the United States has deteriorated over free trade and — although Biden touts the Democratic model — the bitter polarization makes few ambitious moves realistic in Congress.
“It was a mistake to call a summit with little to offer,” said Chatham House senior researcher Christopher Sabatini.
“This idea that the hemisphere, because of its proximity, shares the same principles and objectives is over,” he said. “The United States does not have the capacity to offer many advantages.”
Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, has insisted that lavishing public funds has never been America’s playbook. And the United States already has free trade agreements with a number of Latin American countries, including Mexico, Colombia and Chile.
In an effort to challenge the Chinese model, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the administration would push “fundamental reforms” to the Inter-American Development Bank, to which Washington is the biggest donor, so it can help middle-income countries not poor enough for concessional loans.
Ryan Berg, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said American influence has crumbled in Latin America over the past decade.
The reason is “mostly self-inflicted – a lack of attention to the region, taking it for granted as a source of stability and prosperity, and an inability to mobilize the resources and creativity needed for a comprehensive and meaningful alternative to the development of China”. funding. »
While Cuba has long been a thorn in US relations with Latin America, it would have been unthinkable until recently for the Mexican president not to attend a US-led summit.
Lopez Obrador boycotted Biden’s refusal to invite left-wing leaders from Cuba as well as Venezuela and Nicaragua on the grounds that they are authoritarian.
Demonstration of commitment
While insisting the summit is only for democracies, Biden reached out to leaders from all political backgrounds, connecting with the left-leaning presidents of Argentina and Chile, but meeting to the first time the controversial far-right president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro.
Jason Marczak, who heads the Latin America center at the Atlantic Council, said attendance was more robust than at the last Summit of the Americas in 2018 in Peru, which then-US President Donald Trump did not attend. had not attended.
“The pre-summit drama is one of the few consistencies” in the Summits of the Americas, he said.
He credited Biden for addressing Latin American interests, but said, “A lot of announcements require additional action and it will be very important that action be prioritized.”
Senator Tim Kaine, a member of Biden’s Democratic Party with a long experience in Latin America, said the administration showed its commitment at the summit. Complaints about particular US policies, he said, are common at regional rallies.
“But I’ll tell you what’s left – when people say you’re not there,” Kaine said.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)