The Organization of American States (OAS) has 35 member countries. The OAS promotes democracy, human rights, security, and development. It was founded in 1948. Nine summits have been held since then; the latest Summit of the Americas was held last week in Los Angeles.

Cuba was suspended from the OAS in 1962; Venezuela withdrew in 2017, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega announced his country’s withdrawal from the OAS in November 2021.

The U.S. hosted the 9th Summit and did not invite the heads of those three countries.

“We just don’t believe dictators should be invited. We don’t regret that and the President will stand by his principle,” said Karine Jean-Pierre, White House Press Secretary.

Mexico’s President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, boycotted the summit in solidarity with the three countries that were not invited. Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s foreign minister, attended instead.

“I am not going to the summit because not all American countries are invited and I believe the need to change the policy that has been in place for centuries: The exclusion, the desire to dominate without any reason, the disrespect of countries’ sovereignty (and) the independence of each country,” López Obrador told reporters in Mexico City.

On June 6, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced in Mexico City that he would skip the summit. (Credit EPA-EFE/Isaac Esquivel)

Although clearly a snub to President Joe Biden, leaders of 23 nations did come and discussed health policy, migration, how to streamline immigration processes and multilateral financing to spread the related costs.

At the summit President Biden introduced an initiative for economic recovery called Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity initiative (APEP). It outlined how interested countries could cooperate on trade, climate change, supply-chain resilience, and regional investment. The APEP announcement was more a call to discuss a plan rather than a detailed blueprint.

President Joe Biden was criticized at the Summit of the Americas held in Los Angeles June 6-10, 2022. News media reported the Summit was a flop. (Photo Kevin Lamarque)

After announcing he would not attend last week’s summit, López Obrador said he would visit the White House in July and hoped to discuss with Biden including all leaders from the Americas in future summits.

The Shrinking Sphere of American Influence

American say-so over the economy and foreign policy of its neighbors is considerable but not what it once was.

Mexico’s experience with American foreign policy in the last two decades has been absolutely disastrous,” said Ted Lewis. He is co-director of Global Exchange, a human rights organization based in San Francisco. He said that Mexico was one of the first Latin American countries to recognize Cuba in the 1970s.

 “When the U.S. was supporting military dictatorships all over Latin America that crushed experiments in democracy, Mexico opened its arms to refugees from Chile and Argentina, famously. And in the 1980s Mexico had the temerity to oppose U.S policy in Central America,” Lewis said.

Ted Lewis started the Global Exchange Mexico program in 1995. He works with civil human rights groups in Mexico to end the murders and corruption of the drug trade.

However, Mexico borrowed heavily to develop oil reserves in the Gulf of Mexico and it led to a financial crisis when the price of oil dropped in the 1980s. Lewis said Mexico’s economic collapse caused its traditional non-aligned foreign policy to come “under the thumb of national security doctrine in the U.S.”

After the Cold War ended, national security priorities shifted from the communist threat to the “War on Terror” and the “War on Drugs”. According to Lewis, the “War on Drugs” is the dominant narrative that most Americans have towards Latin America.

The Case of Cuban Refugees

Mexico has a neutral foreign policy, has long recognized Cuba, and does not support the U.S. embargo. Last year, for example, López Obrador blamed the boycott for the unrest in Cuba.

At the same time, however, Mexico has cracked down on Cuban asylum seekers. According to the Washington Office on Latin America, in the first quarter of 2022, 861 Cubans have been returned, 345 by the U.S. Coast Guard, 473 by Mexico and 43 by the Bahamas.

In 1997, the Clinton administration started a “wet foot, dry foot” immigration policy for Cubans. It deported refugees arriving by boat but Cubans who came by land and who lived in the U.S. for a year were fast-tracked towards a green card. Barack Obama ended the policy just before he left office in January 2017.

Since 2017 Mexico has granted more Cubans visitor status and work permits under its immigration laws. This temporary legal status supports the “Remain in Mexico” border policy announced by former President Trump in 2019. The Biden administration wants to rescind the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) but federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have prevented its termination. The U.S. deported more than 70,000 people back to Mexico during Trump’s presidency.

López Obrador is trying to have it both ways. He has re-asserted Mexican independence to stay out of foreign conflicts and scolded the U.S. for trying to throw its weight around the hemisphere. At the same time, Mexico has been an ally in the Drug War and cooperated with the U.S. on immigration issues.

How Mexico Sees the Border Crisis

The U.S. is seeking regional solutions to its backlog of refugees on its Southern border.

“From October 2021 to April 2022, there were 1.3 million encounters by US immigration authorities. Sixty-one percent of those are for migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, meaning that the remaining 39% are from other parts of the world,” said Ariel Ruiz Soto, a policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute in Washington.

Ruiz Soto said that the region’s immigration systems are not equipped to handle the diversity of the increased flow of migrants in the Western Hemisphere. The top five countries of origin for asylum seekers to the U.S. are Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Cuba, and Venezuela. Many travel through Mexico.

Ariel G. Ruiz Soto is a Policy Analyst at the Migration Policy Institute. He studies the interaction of migration policies in the region that stretches from Panama to Canada, as well as their intended and unintended consequences for foreign- and native-born populations.

“Mexico apprehended 308,000 migrants in 2021 and received 131,000 asylum applications. That ranks Mexico No. 3 in the world receiving asylum applications,” he said.

Since 2014, six million Venezuelans left the country and 5 million settled in Central and other Latin American countries. 

“Most countries have used enforcement as a first approach to manage these migration flows and enforcement often results in deportations and repatriations for people of certain nationalities perhaps in more frequency than others,” Ruiz Soto said.

Between 2015-2019 Mexico and the U.S. deported 1.1 million migrants from EL Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala roughly equal to the number of Mexicans the U.S. deported back to Mexico.

 “We continue to see similar rates of deportation,” he said.

From October 2021 to April 2022, .U.S, authorities apprehended 198,000 migrants. They were mostly from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Cuba, and Venezuela.

“These are the top five countries of origin but they also transit through Mexico,” Ruiz Soto said.

Ruiz Soto said Mexico and the U.S. announced a new declaration on migration management last year that has increased interior checkpoints in Mexico.

“In practice, however, the nationality of the migrant makes a difference in the acceptance rate of asylum claims in Mexico.”

He said Venezuelans have nearly 90% acceptance rate in Mexico; about 70% of Hondurans and Guatemalans are accepted; Cubans, Nicaraguans, and Haitians tend to be the ones more likely to be rejected.

Ruiz Soto said many Haitians, Cubans, and Nicaraguan migrants are travelling in caravans and therefore are more likely exposed to enforcement.

The declaration on migration that came out of the Los Angeles summit had three main goals:

  1. crafting stability for communities who are receiving migrants by providing financial assistance for security, food, and shelter.
  2. promoting regular pathways for migration and protection of migrants
  3. making migrant management more humane

U.S. hegemony and one-sided development is being challenged by popular movements

Popular movements all over the Americas are challenging the dominant economic development paradigm. The idea that private enterprise should lead and government should get the people to follow is widespread among economic and political elites.

Indigenous people in Brazil who are trying to save the Amazon do not share it; displaced farmers in Columbia who lost their land and water to the Sinaloan Cartel, say the 2016 peace referendum between the government and FARC rebels, was a sham (it narrowly lost); Native Americans in Minnesota who have stopped the oil pipeline from crossing their land are still fighting; protest movements have been springing up in some countries where water supply has been privatized, including Uruguay, Bolivia, Brazil and Peru.

The rationale driving privatization is that development requires money governments don‘t have and a rising tide lifts all boats. But opponents argue those deals are one-sided and they’re based on an extractive resource model that destroys the environment, robs communities of their home, their livelihoods and, ultimately, their lives.

Paraguay offers a solution for sustainable development. The country owns half of ITAIPU, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam on the border with Brazil. Paraguay can only use one third of its share of the energy it generates. It has money left over for other things.

Argentina produces 10% of its electricity from wind. It has a goal to get 20% of its electricity with renewables by 2025. More than 50 major wind farms have been built across the country. Wind-generated electricity has increased fourteen-fold in the last five years. In 2021, wind and solar in the U.S. accounted for 13% of the nation’s power generation. Other countries in Latin America are leading on the sustainable energy front, not the U.S.

The U.S. news media largely panned the Los Angeles Summit of the Americas. In his address to leaders at the summit last week Biden tried to project unity and common purpose across the Western Hemisphere. In addition to López Obrador from Mexico the leaders of Guatemala, Honduras, Bolivia, and El Salvador did not attend the summit. 

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