By Yan Jin
The long-postponed 9th Summit of the Americas finally convened in Los Angeles from June 6 to 10. Hosting the summit again after 28 years, the US had high hopes for this event of home-court diplomacy. In the past half year, the Biden administration has made careful preparations and wide-ranging deployments in order to relive the glory of the first summit in Miami, but ended up in a falling-out with Latin American countries around the participation of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. The Latin American community, headed by Mexico, said no to the superpower – some of them sent lower-level officials to participate while some downright refused to join, leaving the host much embarrassed.
To cushion the tension and hostility, the Biden administration tried hard to appear “generous” at the summit, rolling out a number of plans and initiatives on battling the pandemic, tackling climate change, and managing migration. The most heavyweight must be the “Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity”, whereby the US promised to help Latin America rebuild its economy in the post-pandemic era by mobilizing investment, building resilient supply chains, and promoting economic transformation .
But quite out of the host’s expectation, these “sugar-coated bullets” didn’t meet with a chorus of hooray from the Latin American guests, who instead remained calm and prudent in general. The reason is that Washington’s move before the summit to keep out those who didn’t follow its lead already drove a wedge in their political mutual trust. More importantly, the guests had seen through the geopolitical calculations behind the proposals. First, America’s ideological division of the world is unpopular. Since Biden came into office, his administration has waved high the flag of values and alliance to Latin American countries and tried to get some of them onboard to form the democratic alliance of the western hemisphere. But at the same time, it has maintained high pressure on Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, and kept upping the sanctions for a chance to overthrow their regimes. The purpose was to split Latin America and prevent the spread of anti-America thoughts across the continent. During the Summit, officials from Washington continued to set the event on an ideological tone without showing any regret for excluding the three countries. What the US did – dividing Latin American countries into different classes based on its own values – strongly displeased the participating countries. The President of Chile said America’s exclusion of certain countries was a mistake.
Second, Latin American countries doubt the viability of the “policy package” presented by the US. Latin America is never America’s diplomatic priority. In the past year and more, Biden’s strategic focus is on Asia Pacific and Europe, so he has little to offer to share with Latin American countries. This, compounded by partisan strife at home, overshadows Washington’s promise to aid and invest in Central America and its plan to “build back a better world” – they are either hard to get off the ground or turn out different from what they were intended to be. Biden proposed to reform the Inter-American Development Bank – he has been talking about that for a long time, but it’s nothing but a lip service by now. Mexican President López was extremely dissatisfied with that, complaining that the US Congress approved a $13.6 billion aid package for Ukraine within two days, but the $4 billion aid package for Central America hasn’t budged for a long time.
Third, Latin American countries don’t want to be embroiled in the New Cold War. After the Russia-Ukraine conflict broke out, the US tried to seduce and pressure Latin American countries into joining the so-called democratic bloc and the sanctions against Russia, but met with unanimous objection. During the Summit, Biden mentioned the “Russian threats” many times in an attempt to lure the participants with a so-called “policy dividend”, which however comes with rigorous geopolitical strings. If they accept the conditions, the Latin American countries will have to join the US-made and US-led political, economic and security “clique”, be tied onto its chariot running toward a New Cold War, and very likely become collateral damages in the major-country contention. Knowing this well, Latin American countries won’t just sing to America’s tune blindly and obediently.
The Summit of the Americas should be a platform of dialogue on which the American family works together to overcome difficulties and find a way toward common prosperity. But the US, abusing its privileges as the host, indulged itself in its self-made “New Cold War” and was determined to drag Latin American countries onto its strategic track as “chess pieces”, turning a blind eye to their needs for recovery and development. There is no doubt that Biden’s geopolitical ambition has ruined this year’s summit, which was supposed to be a wind vane of the US-Latin America relations. The chaos both before and after the summit showed clearly that the geopolitical agenda forced by the US was a serious mismatch to the concerns of the participating countries. The days when Washington could just give orders at will were long gone.
(The author is an associate researcher at the Institute of Latin American Studies, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations)