Despite Americas summit controversy, U.S. hopes to shift focus to migration, economy

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After an uproar over its exclusion of guests to the Summit of the Americas, the Biden administration is promoting plans to address economic, health and food security issues in Latin America to stem migration to the U.S.

Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday will announce $3.2 billion in corporate pledges to help tackle the “root causes” of migration from Central America, according to her office.

The corporate pledges includes $270 million from Visa to help bring 6.5 million people into the formal banking system. The apparel company Gap pledged $150 million to increase materials sourced from the region.

President Joe Biden will announce later this week an economic partnership for the Western hemisphere called Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity. It’s focused on economic recovery by building on existing trade agreements, according to U.S. administration officials.

Biden will also sign the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration, which a senior administration official said “is an unprecedented and ambitious step by the United States and regional partners to work together to address the migration crisis in a comprehensive manner.”

The Biden administration has been contending with blowback for its decision to exclude Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua from the summit.

Biden is under domestic pressure to keep a hard-line policy toward the three countries, especially as the November midterm election nears.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, known for his tough stance on Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, said the Summit is “an opportunity for democracies — not authoritarian thugs.”

“As a result of my repeated consultations with the Administration, I’m pleased to see the President will continue delivering on that promise by preserving the standard that the Summit of the Americas remain a gathering for democracies,” Menendez said in a statement.

Most heads of state are attending, but Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Monday he won’t attend the summit because Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua were excluded.

His decision is no surprise. For weeks, he and other leftist leaders from the region, who are supportive of Cuba’s political system, had been threatening to boycott the event if all countries were not invited. But López Obrador said he would still meet with Biden in Washington in July to discuss immigration and push for more U.S. investments in Central America.

Honduran President Xiomara Castro said Saturday that she would not attend the summit and that Foreign Minister Eduardo Enrique Reina would take her place.

Bolivian President Luis Arce has also said he won’t attend if all countries are not included.

Critics say the no-shows have the potential to turn the summit into an embarrassment for Biden. But administration officials have said that tensions will subside and that the summit will be successful regardless of who attends. At least 23 heads of state and government are expected, which an administration official said would be in line with past gatherings.

The Biden administration had made last-minute efforts to persuade all presidents to attend. Former Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., held talks with López Obrador on the summit. First lady Jill Biden traveled to Ecuador, Costa Rica and Panama in May to help lay the groundwork for the event.

But Cuba said the U.S. was “abusing its privilege of being the host country” by withholding invitations.

“There is no single reason that justifies the anti-democratic and arbitrary exclusion of any country of the hemisphere from this continental meeting.” Cuba said in a statement.

U.S. administration officials have said it would not include nondemocratic governments and have pointed to a charter signed at the 2001 summit by all countries in the region, except Cuba, making it a requirement that only democratically elected leaders can attend.

Held every three years in a different country, the ninth Summit of the Americas is taking place in Los Angeles from June 6-10. It’s the first U.S.-hosted summit since the inaugural event in Miami in 1994.

The summit is an opportunity for the U.S. and regional leaders to meet face-to-face and discuss issues of common interest, helping to strengthen alliances and shape U.S. policy.

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