From June 6-9, 2022, the United States hosted leaders from across the Americas at the IX Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, CA. Under the theme “Building a Sustainable, Resilient, and Equitable Future,” this was only the second time that the United States had hosted the Summit of the Americas since its inception in 1994 and many hoped that it would provide the stage for the Biden administration to reinvigorate Inter-American affairs and layout a clear direction for U.S.-Latin American foreign policy. However, despite some important actions and a great deal of fanfare, this was not to happen.
In fact, the process was anything, but smooth. While the IX Summit was initially planned for 2021, the global COVID-19 pandemic and it being the first year of the Biden administration led to the postponement of the Summit until 2022. While this delay and a new administration could have provided opportunities to develop a comprehensive and shared agenda with the region, the Biden administration faced an uphill battle in preparing for the Summit and in highlighting its agenda to the region. One of these challenges came from the fact that the Biden administration did not have a full ambassadorial team in place across the Americas. In fact, a year into the administration, half of the ambassadorships in the Americas remained vacant and even the ambassador to the Organization of American States—the central regional organization for Inter-American relations—remained empty.
This was followed up by the Biden administration announcing that they did not plan on inviting countries that they viewed as undemocratic—namely Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. The announcement that this was one of the intents of the United States led to a number of countries in the region threatening to boycott the Summit if the United States did not invite all of the countries of the Americas. This defiance of U.S. prerogatives highlighted the degree to which U.S influence in the region has declined since the first Summit as well as the degree to which countries would resist U.S. desires in the region.
While the final decision was not announced until just days before leaders were expected to arrive at the Summit—with the final decision being to exclude these three countries—much of the reporting and attention surrounding the Summit focused on who would and would not attend the Summit rather than on the issues that impacted the citizens of the Americas. In the end, the presidents of some countries did opt to boycott, including Mexico, Honduras, and El Salvador—three countries that are of paramount importance to conversations surrounding migration, one of the key issues of the summit.
These types of challenges led officials—both from the United States and abroad—to say that the Summit process had been “messier than envisioned” and “improvised.” Yet despite these challenges, the Biden administration used the week of the Summit to launch several initiatives and reach some agreements in key areas—albeit with several countries’ leaders not in attendance. This is a shame given that the Summit came at such a critical time. Not only was democracy under assault, but the region is facing unprecedented challenges and was the most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite their differences, these threats require collective approaches and there is a long history of pushing for hemispheric solidarity and cooperation.
This collection of essays represents some of the contemporaneous analysis and thoughts that I had in the lead up and over the course of the Summit. While certain elements may have changed evolved, this collection highlights some of the opportunities—missed and taken—as well as challenges that arose of the course of the Summits process. I hope that these essays provide some insight into these opportunities and challenges and encourage readers to think more deeply about the future of Pan-American cooperation and governance.