Whether or not the boycott threatened by some countries takes effect, the Ninth Summit of the Americas, due to be convened in Los Angeles, California, next month, will be a defining moment in the relationship between the United States and Latin America and the Caribbean.
The gathering, usually a display of United States dominance in hemispheric geopolitics, may be anything but that, as a growing number of heads of state say they might not even show up for the June 6-10 meeting. A rift is growing over a plan by the summit hosts to exclude three non-democratic regimes—Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
Yet to be confirmed reports that Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó might be invited to represent that nation instead of President Nicolás Maduro sparked threats of a boycott from several Caribbean nations.
Although Caricom has not yet given a definitive position on the issue, Antigua and Barbuda’s Gaston Browne has already broken away from the pack, announcing earlier this week that he is standing in solidarity with Venezuela and Cuba and will boycott the Summit.
When he was asked about the issue at Thursday’s post-Cabinet media conference, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said Caricom is trying to come to a consensus position. He added that Trinidad and Tobago’s position is that the Summit should be all-inclusive “because the Americas is all of us.”
The spotlight on relations between the US and its neighbours to the south has intensified now that most countries in the region have opted to occupy the middle ground between that nation and the other global superpower, China. These nations are now less likely to follow the US lead on a range of socioeconomic and political issues.
Cuba—and more recently Venezuela—have been points of contention that often overshadow other critical issues affecting the hemisphere, which is a pity given the many pressing challenges to be addressed, such as economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the effects of climate change.
There was hope for a strengthening of the hemispheric alliance after the Barack Obama administration began to pursue diplomatic relations with Cuba. After being banned from the first six Summits, Cuba was invited to the gathering hosted in Panama in 2015. That occasion included the historic moment when Obama and Raúl Castro shook hands.
But as the US prepares to host the gathering for only the second time in its history, Cuba-US tensions have increased and the Joe Biden administration has not reversed its predecessor’s policy of not recognising the Maduro regime in Venezuela.
So, there is not much optimism that progress will be made in achieving the Summit’s theme, Building a Sustainable, Resilient, and Equitable Future.
It will be unfortunate if the 2022 edition of this hemisphere-wide gathering, which has been held every three years since the inaugural event in Miami, Florida, in 1994, is defined by widening rifts between the ideologically diverse nations of North, Central and South America and the Caribbean.
It would be better to work past these threats of bans and boycotts and look for solutions to the problems affecting the region.