.
W

hen former president Bill Clinton hosted the first Summit of the Americas in 1994 in Miami, his team was careful to only invite the democratically elected heads of state of the Hemisphere to the Summit. At the time, this simply meant that Cuba would not be invited to attend the Summit. After all, this was the “unipolar moment” and the “end of history”— democracy was the way of the future. Today, the region looks different with some even declaring that the Americas are in a “democratic recession.” As the United States prepares to host the Summit for the first time since 1994, the Biden Administration is facing its own set of challenges in determining who should make the invite list. This challenge not only impacts the Summit and the Biden Administration, but raises important questions about the very nature of what it means to be part of the Americas.

The pattern of excluding fully non-democratic countries (specifically Cuba) at the Summits of the Americas continued through the first six Summits. However, at the 2012 Summit in Colombia, leaders from across the region called for the inclusion of Cuba in the following Summit of the Americas. In 2015, in Panama, Cuba made its Summit debut, a moment most marked by the meeting between then-President Obama and Raul Castro. While around this time was a high point for relations between the United States and Cuba, the decision to invite Cuba marked a significant shift in the invitation process that had occurred at the Summits up until this point. 

As rumors swirl about the final invite list to the IX Summit of the Americas, one question seems to be front and center— will the Biden Administration invite leaders that are undemocratic such as those in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela? The Biden Administration has made clear that supporting democracy is central to their foreign policy efforts. While not inviting these leaders would be a clear continuation of the policy used to develop the invite list for the first Summit of the Americas, leaders from Mexico, Brazil, and across the Caribbean have made it clear that the Summit should be open to all of the countries in the Hemisphere, regardless of their government. Some have even suggested that they would not attend the Summit or would send representatives in the place of their presidents. Should these countries and others boycott the Summit over the invitation list, it will represent a blow to Hemispheric unity, the region’s commitment to democracy, and a black mark on Biden’s Latin America and the Caribbean relationship. It also begs an important question— do countries need to be democratic to be part of the Inter-American community?

Much of the debate about who should be invited raises important questions that lie at the very heart of the Inter-American system. Since its origins, the Inter-American system, and particularly the Organization of American States (OAS), has rested on two conflictual principles. The first is that of non-intervention and respect for the sovereignty of states. This element has been a central concern to Latin American and Caribbean governments from the early days of regional integration. These concerns rise out of the region’s history with colonialism as well as of U.S. interventions in the region. In this sense, the Inter-American system and the OAS were, at least partially, established to protect countries from the worst instincts of the United States. Furthermore, some Latin American countries have long diplomatic histories of collaboration regardless of regime type and even of condemning the domestic politics of other states. 

On the other hand, the Inter-American System seeks to uphold human rights and democracy in the region. Early in its founding, the OAS adopted the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, a human rights declaration reached in the same year as the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Furthermore, at the heart of the Organization of American States is a system for promoting Human Rights, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. These bodies seek to promote and defend Human Rights across the region, regardless of the government in place. Additionally, while some countries in the region have diplomatic histories that lean towards non-intervention, other countries have long legacies of supporting democratic governance as the only legitimate form.

These two areas can come into conflict as promoting human rights and democracy can mean interfering with the sovereignty of another country. In the 1990s, those looking at the Americas began to ask whether the right to democracy was “beyond sovereignty.” This view was held as the Organization of American States built up the Inter-American Defense of Democracy Regime. The first two Summits of the Americas not only excluded Cuba from the invite list, but laid the groundwork for the central agreement of the Defense of Democracy Regime— the Inter-American Democratic Charter, ratified in Lima in 2001. The Charter not only provides the OAS with tools to defend and promote democracy among member states, but Article 1 highlights the right of the peoples of the Americas to democracy. The long march towards enshrining democracy as a norm within the Americas seemed to have, at long, last been reached. Notably, it also provides mechanisms to suspend membership within the OAS for countries that have an “unconstitutional interruption of the democratic order.”

However, today looks very different from 2001 when the Charter was signed or 1994 when the United States first hosted the Summit of the Americas. Challenges to democratic rule are evident across the region and the utility of the Inter-American Democratic Charter for addressing democratic ruptures has been questioned. While regional documents have framed democracy as central to membership within the Inter-American system, the debate over who should be invited to the IX Summit of the Americas highlights a return to the debate over sovereignty and democracy in the Americas. The Biden Administration will have to tread carefully so as to strengthen the norm of democratic governance as central to recognition as a responsible party within the Americas without breaking the Hemispheric unity needed to address the region’s most pressing challenges.

About
Adam Ratzlaff
:
Adam Ratzlaff is special series editor and a specialist in Latin American foreign and public affairs.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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www.diplomaticourier.com

Who Makes the Summit of the Americas Guest List?

Photo by Ian Hutchinson via Unsplash.

May 13, 2022

The U.S. is hosting the next Summit of the Americas and there is some controversy over what the final invite list will look like. The Biden Administration could choose not to invite non-democratic regimes, but that choice comes with serious diplomatic costs, writes Diplomatic Courier's Adam Ratzlaff

W

hen former president Bill Clinton hosted the first Summit of the Americas in 1994 in Miami, his team was careful to only invite the democratically elected heads of state of the Hemisphere to the Summit. At the time, this simply meant that Cuba would not be invited to attend the Summit. After all, this was the “unipolar moment” and the “end of history”— democracy was the way of the future. Today, the region looks different with some even declaring that the Americas are in a “democratic recession.” As the United States prepares to host the Summit for the first time since 1994, the Biden Administration is facing its own set of challenges in determining who should make the invite list. This challenge not only impacts the Summit and the Biden Administration, but raises important questions about the very nature of what it means to be part of the Americas.

The pattern of excluding fully non-democratic countries (specifically Cuba) at the Summits of the Americas continued through the first six Summits. However, at the 2012 Summit in Colombia, leaders from across the region called for the inclusion of Cuba in the following Summit of the Americas. In 2015, in Panama, Cuba made its Summit debut, a moment most marked by the meeting between then-President Obama and Raul Castro. While around this time was a high point for relations between the United States and Cuba, the decision to invite Cuba marked a significant shift in the invitation process that had occurred at the Summits up until this point. 

As rumors swirl about the final invite list to the IX Summit of the Americas, one question seems to be front and center— will the Biden Administration invite leaders that are undemocratic such as those in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela? The Biden Administration has made clear that supporting democracy is central to their foreign policy efforts. While not inviting these leaders would be a clear continuation of the policy used to develop the invite list for the first Summit of the Americas, leaders from Mexico, Brazil, and across the Caribbean have made it clear that the Summit should be open to all of the countries in the Hemisphere, regardless of their government. Some have even suggested that they would not attend the Summit or would send representatives in the place of their presidents. Should these countries and others boycott the Summit over the invitation list, it will represent a blow to Hemispheric unity, the region’s commitment to democracy, and a black mark on Biden’s Latin America and the Caribbean relationship. It also begs an important question— do countries need to be democratic to be part of the Inter-American community?

Much of the debate about who should be invited raises important questions that lie at the very heart of the Inter-American system. Since its origins, the Inter-American system, and particularly the Organization of American States (OAS), has rested on two conflictual principles. The first is that of non-intervention and respect for the sovereignty of states. This element has been a central concern to Latin American and Caribbean governments from the early days of regional integration. These concerns rise out of the region’s history with colonialism as well as of U.S. interventions in the region. In this sense, the Inter-American system and the OAS were, at least partially, established to protect countries from the worst instincts of the United States. Furthermore, some Latin American countries have long diplomatic histories of collaboration regardless of regime type and even of condemning the domestic politics of other states. 

On the other hand, the Inter-American System seeks to uphold human rights and democracy in the region. Early in its founding, the OAS adopted the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, a human rights declaration reached in the same year as the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Furthermore, at the heart of the Organization of American States is a system for promoting Human Rights, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. These bodies seek to promote and defend Human Rights across the region, regardless of the government in place. Additionally, while some countries in the region have diplomatic histories that lean towards non-intervention, other countries have long legacies of supporting democratic governance as the only legitimate form.

These two areas can come into conflict as promoting human rights and democracy can mean interfering with the sovereignty of another country. In the 1990s, those looking at the Americas began to ask whether the right to democracy was “beyond sovereignty.” This view was held as the Organization of American States built up the Inter-American Defense of Democracy Regime. The first two Summits of the Americas not only excluded Cuba from the invite list, but laid the groundwork for the central agreement of the Defense of Democracy Regime— the Inter-American Democratic Charter, ratified in Lima in 2001. The Charter not only provides the OAS with tools to defend and promote democracy among member states, but Article 1 highlights the right of the peoples of the Americas to democracy. The long march towards enshrining democracy as a norm within the Americas seemed to have, at long, last been reached. Notably, it also provides mechanisms to suspend membership within the OAS for countries that have an “unconstitutional interruption of the democratic order.”

However, today looks very different from 2001 when the Charter was signed or 1994 when the United States first hosted the Summit of the Americas. Challenges to democratic rule are evident across the region and the utility of the Inter-American Democratic Charter for addressing democratic ruptures has been questioned. While regional documents have framed democracy as central to membership within the Inter-American system, the debate over who should be invited to the IX Summit of the Americas highlights a return to the debate over sovereignty and democracy in the Americas. The Biden Administration will have to tread carefully so as to strengthen the norm of democratic governance as central to recognition as a responsible party within the Americas without breaking the Hemispheric unity needed to address the region’s most pressing challenges.

About
Adam Ratzlaff
:
Adam Ratzlaff is special series editor and a specialist in Latin American foreign and public affairs.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.