MEXICO CITY – Mexico’s president said Tuesday that he would not attend next month's Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles if the Biden administration excludes Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua — adding his voice to increasing warnings of a boycott by some leaders across the region.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been saying in recent weeks that the U.S. government should not exclude anyone from the summit, but he had not previously threatened to stay home.
“If they exclude, if not all are invited, a representative of the Mexican government is going to go, but I would not,” López Obrador said during his daily news conference, fresh off a visit to Cuba. He said his foreign affairs secretary, Marcelo Ebrard, would go.
The Mexican president's absence would be a blow to the summit expected to deal heavily with the issue of migration at the U.S.-Mexico border. The Biden administration has worked for months to build regional consensus. Cabinet members have been visiting the region urging allies to shore up immigration controls and expand their asylum programs.
“Our goal is ... to sign a regional declaration on migration and protection in June in Los Angeles when the United States hosts the Summit of the Americas,” President Joe Biden said in March, when he hosted Colombia President Iván Duque at the White House.
He called for "a new framework of how nations throughout the region can collectively manage migration in the Western Hemisphere.”
Such cooperation will be critical as the U.S. wrestles with the problem of high numbers of migrants arriving at its southern border and prepares to lift a restriction of asylum applications there later this month that is expected to draw even more migrants north.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols has previously said that the governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua have shown that they do not respect democracy and would be unlikely to receive invitations. And the U.S. does not even recognize Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro as the country's legal leader.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki was noncommittal when asked about the invitations on Tuesday, saying “a final decision has not been made.”
“We haven’t made a decision yet about who will be invited and no invitations have been issued yet,” Psaki said during her daily media briefing.
Leaders of Caribbean nations have also discussed a collective boycott of the summit if nations are excluded and criticized the U.S. plan to invite Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó. The U.S. recognizes him as that country's legitimate president, but many Caribbean nations do not.
“We do not believe in the policy of ostracizing Cuba and Venezuela. We do not recognize Juan Guaidó as the president of Venezuela. In those circumstances, Antigua and Barbuda will not participate," said that country's prime minister, Gaston Browne.
He said that a consensus to boycott the summit if countries were excluded had emerged from Caribbean foreign ministers’ meeting in Belize in March, “but I am not sure if the consensus will hold.”
St. Vincent Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves had a similar take: “If Guaidó goes to represent Venezuela, if the Americans were to do that it would be an act of folly,” Gonsalves told a weekend radio program, saying St. Vincent may not attend if Maduro is excluded.
Cuba is an active member of the Caribbean Community of nations and the Communist-governed island has provided thousands of free scholarships to Caribbean medical, engineering and other students since the mid 70s. Successive Venezuelan governments have assisted Caribbean countries with prefabricated housing and cheap oil.
A senior Biden administration official said the blowback is largely posturing in response to a strong diplomatic push from Cuba — a perennial touchstone for the Latin American left — and that the U.S. expects few leaders to follow through on threats to skip the summit.
Behind the scenes, several Caribbean leaders signaled they plan to attend, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private diplomatic communications.
The official said the administration expects both López Obrador and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro to attend.
Cuba was excluded from first six hemispheric summits, held from 1994 to 2012. But Cuba was invited to the 2015 gathering in Panama following growing threats of a boycott by leftist Latin American leaders if it was excluded – as well as a thaw in relations with the U.S. under President Barack Obama, who met Cuban leader Raul Castro at the event.
Cuba also was invited to the last summit in Peru in 2018, but Castro sent his foreign minister instead because Venezuela's Maduro had not been invited. U.S. President Donald Trump did not attend either.
Argentina, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, also issued an appeal this month to avoid excluding any governments.
In a tweet, it called the summit “a great opportunity to build a space for encounters in which all the countries of the hemisphere participate” and urged organizers “to avoid exclusions that impede having all the voices of the hemisphere in dialogue and being heard.”
López Obrador left open the possibility that he could attend if the Biden administration invites all countries. He noted that previous summits had not excluded any countries and blamed the current situation on political minorities in the U.S. backing a “hostile policy.”
“There’s still time before the summit and we could arrive at an agreement, but we have to all unite, look for America’s unity,” he said.
Goodman reported from Cleveland, Ohio. AP writers Will Weissert in Washington and Bert Wilkinson contributed to this story from Georgetown, Guyana.