The Joe Biden administration has chosen Los Angeles to host a summit of leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean that is a key part of its outreach to a region increasingly being courted by U.S. adversaries such as Russia and China.
The Summit of the Americas, to take place the week of June 6, will focus on defending democracy and human rights in the Western Hemisphere as well as addressing irregular migration, climate change and efforts to ensure equitable growth as the region emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic, a senior congressional aide briefed by the State Department told The Associated Press.
It's the first time the U.S. is hosting the key regional gathering since 1994, when President Bill Clinton hosted regional leaders in Miami to push for a free trade agreement stretching from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego.
But with that ambitious goal abandoned long ago amid a rise in leftist, anti-American politics in several parts of the region, many experts have questioned the need for an expensive gathering of more than 30 heads of state each pushing their own bilateral agenda with Washington but often cooperating little amongst themselves.
The region in recent years has diversified its trade and diplomatic ties and the U.S. has largely stood by as Russia, China, Iran and other foreign powers hostile to the U.S. have gained influence in what for decades was somewhat referred to as Washington’s backyard.
President Donald Trump didn’t even bother to show up for the last summit, in Peru in 2018.
“The U.S. is holding the Summit at the edge of a global pandemic, with authoritarianism on the rise and waning influence in the hemisphere," said Jennie Lincoln, a senior adviser at the Atlanta-based Carter Center focusing on peace initiatives in Latin America and the Caribbean. “What incentives will the Biden Administration offer and what will it ask in return in this new competitive environment?”
It's not clear who Los Angeles beat out. But cities including Miami, Houston and New Orleans were also rumored to have been considering a bid.
In the end, Los Angeles — a Democratic stronghold where Vice President Kamala Harris has deep roots — was considered a safe choice, one that reflects the administration's focus on addressing the drivers of migration from Central America and Mexico. Many migrants fleeing economic hardship and gang violence in the region have resettled in Los Angeles.
The White House said in a statement announcing the decision Tuesday that the “vital national interests of the United States are inextricably bound to the fortunes of our closest neighbors in the Americas."
“The ability of our democracies to close the gap between what we promise and what we deliver depends in no small part on what we do, together, to make it better,” it added
It's unclear if leaders of all 35 nations in the hemisphere will be invited to attend the Summit. In the past, Cuba was excluded but President Barack Obama famously shook hands with former President Raul Castro at the 2015 gathering in Panama as part of his effort to re-establish diplomatic relations with the communist-run island.
Another sore spot is Venezuela. The Biden administration has continued the Trump policy of recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country's legitimate leader, meaning its unlikely that President Nicolás Maduro, who has consolidated his rule with the support of the Venezuelan military, be invited.
The Biden administration has taken a similarly harsh stance against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's crackdown on his opponents and has also raised doubts about El Salvador President Nayib Bukele's commitment to democracy.