Leaders from across the region are expected from Monday for a week of discussions in Los Angeles. Washington wants to show the muscles against China, which is advancing its pawns in an area long considered by the Americans as their backyard.
But the White House has still not released a guest list, hoping to defuse a crisis with Mexican President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador.
The latter threatened not to come if all Latin American countries without exception were not invited, including those the United States does not want to hear about: Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
Joe Biden, self-proclaimed champion of democracy around the world, did not want authoritarian regimes among his guests.
His main adviser for Latin America, Juan Gonzalez, told the press that the Democratic president intended to “promote a vision of a safe” and “democratic” region, which “is basically in the strategic interest of the States -United”.
Joe Biden will, according to him, make announcements on economic cooperation and the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic as well as against climate change.
The president also hopes to conclude a regional cooperation agreement on a politically explosive subject, and which has earned him violent criticism from the Republican opposition: immigration.
The number of people seeking to enter the United States after fleeing poverty and violence in Central America and Haiti is on the rise.
The Biden administration has so far failed to keep its promise to pursue a revamped immigration policy, which it wants to be more humane than that of the Trump mandate.
Washington has ensured the arrival of some major leaders, both the center-left Argentinian president Alberto Fernandez and the far-right Brazilian head of state, Jair Bolsonaro.
But if the Mexican president did not come, it would be “a significant absence”, according to Benjamin Gedan, who directs Latin American studies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
His boycott threat caused “a truly unwelcome twist in the lead-up to the summit, as it took up an enormous amount of American diplomatic energy,” he notes.
The researcher also notes that, where China is investing heavily in the region, the American president has so far not announced any substantial economic effort.
“The summit will have to be judged by the yardstick of the United States’ proposals in terms of commercial access, loans and assistance to finance recovery and infrastructure in the region,” said Benjamin Gedan. “And on these points, the United States will disappoint, it is inevitable,” he believes.
– The lost attraction of free trade –
The Summit of the Americas was launched in 1994 in Miami by President Bill Clinton, who wanted to launch a vast regional trade liberalization agreement.
But free trade is no longer on the rise, neither in the United States nor elsewhere, and in this respect Joe Biden has not basically broken with the protectionist reflexes of his predecessor Donald Trump.
Eric Farnsworth, vice-president of the Council of the Americas (“Council of the Americas”, an organization which promotes commercial exchanges on the scale of the American continent) recently estimated during a parliamentary hearing that each edition of the Summit of the Americas was “less ambitious” than the previous one.
Michael Shifter, a researcher at Inter-American Dialogue, sees the controversy over the guest list as a sign of declining US influence. Especially since the political difficulties of Joe Biden, unpopular and who risks losing control of Congress after elections this fall, do not escape the leaders of the region.
The United States “still has a lot of soft power”, he notes, that is to say impact in terms of cultural content or consumption habits. But their “political and diplomatic influence is falling every day”.