Not being invited to a party is never a nice feeling. And when no one turns up to yours, it’s downright embarrassing. Every three years or so, leaders from the Americas take turns to host their neighbours for a blow-out diplomatic fiesta. But the Ninth Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, which begins on 6 June, looks like it might be less of a knees-up, given that most of those invited don’t plan to attend.
As host, the US is in charge of invitations and it has excluded Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela on the grounds that their governments were undemocratic. The move has backfired. Mexico has launched a boycott, arguing that the event in Los Angeles should not “be reduced to a ‘Summit of the United States of America’”. The snub from Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has prompted others to follow suit. Potential no-shows include Bolivia, Guatemala and Honduras. Argentina and Brazil are still on the fence, leaving Colombia, Latin America’s fourth-largest economy whose president is weeks from stepping down, as the most significant confirmed attendee.
Threats of an empty cocktail reception have caused Washington to reconsider its position as it races to salvage the event. The summit comes at a delicate time for the Biden administration, which is seeking to counter China’s inexorable advance in the region and stem record-high migration at the southern US border.
This latest spat hints at far bigger problems facing the host: its lack of an ambitious agenda and waning US influence. Latin American officials consistently say that there has been nothing comparable to the bold 1994 proposal from Bill Clinton (pictured) for a Free Trade Area of the Americas when the US last played host to the summit. Since then, the US has either ignored or lashed out at countries further south and Joe Biden’s administration has promised little in the way of change. It’s no wonder nobody feels like celebrating with a party.
Lucinda Elliott is Monocle’s Latin America affairs correspondent.