LOS ANGELES - Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador confirmed Monday that he will skip the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, dealing a blow to the U.S.′ efforts to rally governments to work together to address surging migration in the hemisphere.
López Obrador had been leading a chorus of mostly leftist leaders pushing the U.S. to invite Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela to the gathering taking place on U.S. soil for the first time since 1994. Other leaders, including from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — three big drivers of migration to the U.S. — have indicated they’ll stay away too.
"There cannot be an Americas Summit if not all of the continent’s countries participate," López Obrador said Monday, indicating that Mexico would instead be represented by his foreign affairs secretary, Marcelo Ebrard, "Or there can be one, but that is to continue with the old politics of interventionism."
The White House defended its decision to exclude certain countries, while also confirming López Obrador will visit Washington in July to meet with Biden. Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said there was "candid engagement" with the Mexican leader about the summit.
"We do not believe that dictators should be invited," Jean-Pierre said.
With so many no-shows, critics say the event risks turning into an embarrassment for President Joe Biden, who has struggled to reassert U.S. leadership in a region where mistrust of the U.S. runs deep and China has been made major inroads the past two decades as the U.S. foreign policy has been dominated by wars in the Middle East and now Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Even some leaders who are attending drew differences with the U.S.
"In respect to Cuba we have always been there to support and defend human rights," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in Ottawa at a news conference with visiting Chilean President Gabriel Boric. "We’ve also pushed for greater democracy. Canada has always had a different position on Cuba than the United States."
Boric, a 36-year-old leftist millennial, said attendees will have an opportunity to make statements if the United States intends to exclude countries.
Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is a strong critic of the Cuban government, applauded the exclusion of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela and took a swipe at López Obrador, saying his decision to skip Los Angeles would set back bilateral relations.
Menendez said the Mexican leader was siding with "dictators and despots over representing the interests of the Mexican people in a summit with his partners from across the hemisphere."
The Biden administration said it would not include autocratic governments that jail opponents and rig elections, pointing to a declaration from the 2001 summit in Quebec City, when the region’s governments committed to barring any government that breaks with democratic order from future gatherings.
However, many critics, including some progressive Democrats, have criticized the administration for bowing to pressure from exiles in the swing state of Florida to bar communist Cuba, which attended the last two summits.