The Biden administration plans to exclude Cuba from the upcoming Summit of the Americas, a major global meeting to be held in Los Angeles in June that typically welcomes all governments in the Western Hemisphere, a senior U.S. official told The Times.
The summit, which is held every three or four years, is being convened in the United States for the first time since its 1994 inaugural session in Miami. Los Angeles was chosen as the venue earlier this year.
The administration’s refusal to invite Cuba is likely to anger several other Latin American countries as President Biden and the State Department attempt to repair damaged relations in the region.
“We expect the democratic nations of our hemisphere to gather for a conversation,” Brian Nichols, assistant secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, said in an interview referring to the summit.
Cuba, he said, is decidedly not part of that group, especially after demonstrations last July in which Cubans demanded political and economic freedoms. Many people were arrested and at least one died. In addition, Washington has opposed Russian influence in communist-ruled Cuba, its lack of free speech and its human rights record.
Numerous advocates who support improved relations with Cuba — including some in Congress — had hoped the Biden administration would reopen diplomatic, political and trade ties with the island that were frozen by former President Trump. Trump reversed an initial and historic opening initiated by then-President Obama, who sought to end a half-century of Cold War hostilities.
However, President Biden has done little to roll back Trump’s rebukes of Cuba, which included adding the country to a U.S. government list of state sponsors of terrorism. And the administration is only slowly reestablishing U.S. consular services in Havana that would help Cubans obtain visas for legal travel.
In addition, a U.S. policy on remittances, money that people, including Cuban Americans, can send to island residents, remains “under review,” strangling a lifeline for many. Flights by American carriers, trips by U.S. tourists and cultural exchanges also remain problematic without clearer guidelines from the administration.
Meanwhile, a tough economic embargo on the island that dates to the Eisenhower administration remains in place.
The hard line on Cuba appears to have carried over to the Summit of the Americas.
For many summits after the inaugural session, all held in Latin America or the Caribbean, Cuba has not been invited or has declined an invitation. More recently, however, its government began to participate, invited despite it engaging in practices that other members of the region’s diplomatic bodies, such as the Organization of American States, have harshly condemned.
The U.S. decision, which has not been formally announced and will ultimately be made by Biden, is already attracting criticism in the region.
In addition to Cuba voicing opposition to the move, officials in Mexico, a key U.S. ally, indicated they were not pleased. In a phone call last Friday, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador urged Biden to invite to the summit all the countries of the Western Hemisphere, “without excluding anyone.”
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard held closed-door meetings with his U.S. counterpart, Antony J. Blinken, on Tuesday in Washington. Ebrard said later at a news conference at the Mexican Embassy that he asked Blinken to reconsider denying invitations to Cuba, as well as to Nicaragua and Venezuela, which are also expected to be excluded. Ebrard said he came away without a definitive answer.
On April 11, 2015, on the sidelines of a Summit of the Americas in Panama, then-President Obama met and shook hands with then-President Raul Castro of Cuba, the first contact between leaders of the two countries in decades. Obama said at the time he believed the two countries could disagree in “the spirit of respect and civility” and that the time was coming “to turn the page.”
Within months, the two revived diplomatic ties between their countries, reopened various economic and trade arrangements, and Obama made a historic trip to Havana.
Trump reversed those actions, ending travel and freezing remittances and reversing diplomatic overtures. And Biden has not chosen to reinstate Obama’s diplomatic approach.
For the Summit of the Americas, it is also unlikely that the U.S. will invite Nicaragua, where President Daniel Ortega has conducted what the U.S. and many other nations and democracy groups call a sham election that gave him yet another term in office.
And Venezuela is always the skunk at the picnic, with President Nicolas Maduro shunned at most international gatherings. The question is whether Biden will invite Juan Guaidó, a Venezuelan opposition leader whom the U.S. government has recognized as the rightful leader of the country despite little effective domestic support.
Yet some questionable democracies will be invited because of overriding ties they have with the United States, Nichols and other officials said.
El Salvador, for example, has such longstanding ties with the U.S., dating to its civil war in the 1980s — in which the Reagan administration backed the Salvadoran government and numerous U.S. church and civil rights groups supported the opposition — that the country should not be excluded, Nichols said.
“We obviously have deep and longstanding ties with El Salvador and their millions of Salvadorans in the United States,” Nichols said, noting that ties were particularly strong to Southern California.
“We have very substantial differences with President [Nayib] Bukele on a number of issues, particularly related to democracy, the separation of powers and transparency, [yet] I believe that it will be important for El Salvador to participate,” Nichols said, referring to recent actions by Bukele to erode judicial independence and silence dissent and journalists critical of his administration.
The summit will be a forum to discuss immigration, trade, climate change and ways to reinforce democracy, among other regional topics. Nichols said it was likely the region’s leaders will produce a “Los Angeles Declaration” on promoting “safe, humane orderly migration” and ensuring that migrants “can be protected where they are, and there are opportunities for them to remain in place.”