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Hey Mexico. Eat me!

Mexico’s Leader to Skip Regional Summit After U.S. Snubs Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela

Biden administration will exclude three hemispheric autocracies from Summit of the Americas despite pressure from Mexico and other countries

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said on Monday that his relations with the U.S. president are still good and he plans to visit the White House in July.

By Michelle Hackman and José de Córdoba, WSJ

Updated June 6, 2022 7:16 pm ET

BTW I love this song.

The Biden administration has excluded Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela from a key regional summit this week, said U.S. administration officials, prompting Mexico’s leader to back out and send his foreign minister instead.

After weeks of wrangling over the issue amid threats of country boycotts, the administration excluded the three autocracies due to U.S. concerns over human rights and lack of democratic institutions in those countries, the officials said. The regional summit, scheduled for June 6-10 in Los Angeles, is expected to focus on migration and economic issues.

“The President’s principal position is that we do not believe that dictators should be invited,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who had warned he wouldn’t attend the summit if Cuba and others were excluded, said he would skip it. The Mexican leader said he had a good relationship with Mr. Biden and that he planned to visit the White House in July.

The leaders of Bolivia, Guatemala, Honduras and St. Vincent and the Grenadines also said they wouldn’t attend. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro had also threatened not to go, but later opted to attend.

The political rift between the U.S. and some Latin American leaders may hurt U.S. efforts to agree on a regional plan to fight irregular immigration toward the U.S. In March, U.S. border authorities apprehended nearly 210,000 migrants attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, the highest monthly tally since 2000.

The rift could also benefit China, which has significantly increased its trade and diplomatic presence in the hemisphere in the last two decades, experts say. Beijing quickly supported Mr. López Obrador’s demand that all countries of the Americas be invited to the summit.

The boycotts are a sign of the declining influence of the U.S. in Latin America, while highlighting hemispheric divisions over shared commitments to liberal democracy and pro-business policies, say political analysts and former diplomats.

“It adds up to an accelerating erosion of democratic values across the hemisphere,” said Eric Farnsworth, the vice president of the Council of the Americas and a former State Department official.

The boycotts come as thousands of migrants stuck at Mexico’s border with Guatemala left in a large caravan heading north as part of a protest to demand that Mexico’s government issue humanitarian visas to allow migrants to move freely across Mexico. Most of the migrants are Cubans and Venezuelans who were in the Mexican border town of Tapachula waiting for their visas to be issued so they could leave town.

Border cities like Brownsville, Texas, are seeing their resources stretched as they work to manage the growing number of migrant families crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. WSJ’s Michelle Hackman reports. Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas

A central goal for the Biden administration at the summit is to sign a burden-sharing agreement with countries in the region to help stem the flow of would-be migrants. The diverse group includes asylum seekers heading to the U.S. from Central America, millions of displaced Venezuelans and Cubans, Haitians and others fleeing violence and poverty.

Summit participants are expected to agree to a framework in which more countries would host migrants and create more visa pathways to move throughout the region legally for either work or humanitarian protection, say people familiar with the matter. In exchange, the U.S. would boost its economic commitment to countries with large migrant populations.

The ultimate goal would be to reduce the number of migrants seeking to reach the U.S.—or who could be offered permanent resettlement in other countries instead.

That pact represents a break from past practice, when the U.S. held the position that its immigration policy was a sovereign matter not up for diplomatic negotiation, said Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan Washington think tank.

“It will create a common language on migration that’s never been seen as an issue of cooperation,” he said.

The framework is expected to serve as the basis for bilateral migration deals the Biden administration hopes to sign with more countries across the region. Already, it has made deals for Panama and Costa Rica to help the U.S. in exchange for stepped-up economic commitments, people familiar with the matter say. Those pacts haven’t been made public. The administration is planning to unveil other commitments this week, including from Canada, the people said.

Another goal will be to lay out a new shared economic agenda to help the region—which was the world’s hardest-hit by Covid-19—recover from the pandemic, Biden administration officials said.

Those commitments will include more U.S. funding for increased internet and telecommunications networks, healthcare and agricultural programs to increase food security. The U.S. also hopes to create a new pact with Caribbean nations to hasten the transition to clean energy, to be led by Vice President Kamala Harris.

The run-up to the summit, however, underscored some of the challenges faced by the administration in creating a common agenda and in reassuring the region that the U.S. will remain an attentive ally, analysts said.

More than a year-and-a-half after Mr. Biden took power, the U.S. has also not filled several key posts for ambassadors, including in big countries such as Brazil and Chile, and countries serving as way stations for migrants, such as El Salvador.

The debate about who to invite to the summit reflects a far different mood than during the first summit in 1994. In that meeting in Miami, liberal democracy and free trade was spreading across the hemisphere, and with the fall of the Soviet Union, many analysts saw the Cuban communist regime as a fading anomaly.

After the 2001 summit in Quebec, countries signed the Inter-American Democratic Charter, intended to strengthen democratic institutions throughout the Americas. That charter created the basis for agreeing to exclude non-democracies from regional summits.

“The summit is an opportunity for democracies—not authoritarian thugs—from across the hemisphere to forge an agenda that advances our shared prosperity and democratic values,” U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.), who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement Monday. He said he was concerned by Mr. Lopez Obrador’s “decision to stand with dictators and despots…”

In recent years, democratic values have eroded across parts of the hemisphere.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla leader, won a fourth consecutive term in November after arresting the leading opposition candidates in an election widely described as a sham. In Cuba, an unprecedented wave of protests last July the government to arrest hundreds of demonstrators, many of whom have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro secured reelection in a 2018 poll that the U.S. declared a sham. In early 2019, the Trump administration recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s legitimate interim president. In 2020, the U.S. indicted Mr. Maduro for drug trafficking and for narco-terrorism.

Mr. López Obrador, who took office in 2018, has sought to strengthen presidential powers at the expense of state governments and autonomous agencies such as the electoral institute. Like Brazil’s president, he also routinely attacks judges, journalists and government-accountability nonprofits, which has raised worries among civil and human rights groups. The Mexican leader has said he is simply attacking corruption and that autonomous agencies are working on behalf of a conservative opposition.

Many Mexican analysts criticized Mr. López Obrador’s refusal to attend the summit in Los Angeles. “The president lost a great opportunity to speak in the most Mexican city of the United States defending Mexican migrants and talking about immigration, one of the most important topics for the country,” said Miguel Ruiz-Cabañas, a former deputy foreign minister. “Mexico’s fundamental interests lie with the U.S., not with Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.”

U.S. relations aren’t much better with the region’s other two big democracies, Brazil and Argentina. Brazil’s nationalist leader, Mr. Bolsonaro, was among the last heads of state to acknowledge Mr. Biden’s 2020 election, and has complained that the White House has put its relationship with Brazil on ice.

“I’m not going there to smile and shake [Biden’s] hand. I’m going there to sort things out,” Mr. Bolsonaro told journalists in Brasília. Mr. Bolsonaro, a right-wing populist, had decided to attend the summit after the former Sen. Christopher Dodd (D., Conn.) persuaded him.

“Biden’s attitude of sending a senator almost to beg Bolsonaro to go is a certain humiliation,” said Rubens Ricupero, a prominent former Brazilian diplomat with close ties to Brazil’s foreign service. “It was a way to save the poorly organized summit, which until the end was threatened with failure due to the lack of a significant agenda and the absence of some important figures on the continent.”

Argentine President Alberto Fernández had also threatened to boycott the summit over the exclusion of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Mr. Fernández, a leftist, decided to attend after a phone call last week with Mr. Biden, who invited him to the White House in July.

Ken Thomas and Santiago Pérez contributed to this article.

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