by Andrés Oppenheimer
After having covered virtually all Summits of the Americas since the first such meeting of hemispheric heads of state in Miami in 1994, I can say pretty confidently that the one scheduled for this week in Los Angeles will be one of the most poorly organized and least ambitious ever.
To be fair, President Biden, who is hosting the June 6-10 summit, has had more urgent priorities recently. He has successfully assembled the world’s biggest pro-democracy alliance since World War II to confront Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and he deserves full credit for it.
And, granted, Biden’s Republican critics have no moral authority to criticize the president for his lack of attention to Latin America. U.S. neglect of the region was even worse under former President Trump, who routinely cast Latino migrants as criminals, and was the only U.S. president to skip a Summit of the Americas.
But, having said that, the Biden administration deserves criticism for failing to set an ambitious agenda for this meeting, which offers a rare opportunity to improve U.S-Latin American ties. This summit takes place only every three or four years, and is the only regional meeting of leaders of the United States and Canada.
During the first of these summits in 1994, the Clinton administration and Latin American countries agreed to create a Free Trade Area of the Americas, which was supposed to span from Alaska to Patagonia. The plan was rejected by South American countries years later, and the United States turned its attention to its Asian trade partners.
Subsequent summits produced some tangible results, such as the 2001 Inter-American Democratic Charter that allows for diplomatic sanctions on countries that break a democratic rule.