Region - The pre-Summit mess
There is plenty of controversy over the Summit. Some of it is inevitable. Some of it needs more attention and personnel.
Like many summits, a lot of small tactical things and useful bilateral meetings will get accomplished on the sidelines while some stupid controversy distracts from the overall meeting goals.
Predictably, there is a growing narrative in the media and in conversations among people who care about Latin America about the problems with the upcoming Summit of the Americas. Some of this was inevitable, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is certainly a distraction, but the Biden administration has also made things harder on themselves with a late planning process and a lack of personnel in place.
The expected controversy is that there is a fight over who is invited, who is not invited and who may or may not attend. This happens at essentially every regional meeting and the debate over who gets to join various clubs and cliques is a drain on the hemispheric agenda that harms every other issue. Ultimately, most leaders who are invited will show up and those that don’t are doing far more to harm their own interests than any symbolic statement that they believe they are making. But the rest of the Summit’s agenda will suffer as people waste time discussing who is and isn't in the room.
The second big criticism is that the US has many vacant ambassador posts in the region. While some of this can be blamed on a very broken Senate confirmation process, some nominations haven’t even been made by the Biden administration. This lack of Senate-confirmed personnel is a constant problem in US policy towards Latin America and the Caribbean, but is particularly stinging as the US hosts what should be the largest high level regional meeting in years.
The third big criticism I’ve been hearing is that the scheduling and logistics for the Summit are a mess. Without a defined calendar of events where the regional leaders including President Biden will be present, nobody can firmly book other sideline events and coffees and happy hours where significant actual business will be done. This is a basic scheduling challenge that should be solvable and done quickly so that the summit can be a productive week of meetings for the government, civil society and private sector officials who are attending.
And finally, there is the matter of the agenda items and topics to be discussed. US politics means that migration and competition with China will be the top issues that get media attention, no matter what the other agenda items may be. Bloomberg reported yesterday that there is a late push for a trade and nearshoring agenda. It’s not clear what, if anything, will be agreed to at this Summit. While I’m sure some initiatives will be launched, the scope is unlikely to match the challenges the region faces in terms of economics, security or climate change.
Both pre- and post-Summit, there are inevitable comparisons and contrasts to the 1994 Summit. Will this Summit live up to that legacy? Absolutely not. But to be fair, most analysts treat that 1994 Summit far too positively. It had a lot of great photo ops and big promises that never materialized. It’s not wrong for this year’s meeting in Los Angeles to have a more realistic and limited agenda with so many different players at the table. But at the same time, the US still needs to set aside the time and get the personnel in position to make even that limited agenda successful.
Thanks for reading
Sergio Guzmán and I are hosting a discussion about Colombia’s election the day after the first round. We’ll review the results and discuss second round scenarios. The event, which costs US$100, will be held on Zoom at 12pm EDT, 11AM Colombia time, on May 30. You can register here. Feel free to reach out with any questions.