Biden faces uphill climb to restore US clout in Latin America

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Heads of state led by US President Joe Biden pose for a photo at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles

President Joe Biden made a forceful pitch to reassert US influence in Latin America through a weeklong summit in Los Angeles but the modesty of his promises will test his efforts at a time when China is making rapid inroads. 

Some two dozen leaders came together for the Summit of the Americas where Biden and the rest of the top US brass pledged to do more with them on migration, clean energy and health infrastructure — and charmed guests with glitzy receptions befitting Tinseltown. 

“No matter what else is happening in the world, the Americas will always be a priority for the United States of America,” Biden said. 

The United States next year marks two centuries since it declared Latin America its exclusive sphere under the Monroe Doctrine and cultural ties run deep.

The fast-growing communist power has lent some $150 billion to Latin America since 2005, about half to Venezuela, offering no political conditions but putting some nations into what critics call a debt trap.

Biden at the summit pitched a hemisphere-wide economic “partnership” that will discuss common standards but not directly commit funding or new market access. 

“It was a mistake to convene a summit with little to offer,” said Christopher Sabatini, a senior fellow at Chatham House. 

Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor, insisted that lavishing state funds was never the US playbook. And the United States already has free-trade deals with a number of Latin American nations including Mexico, Colombia and Chile. 

Ryan Berg, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that US influence has been sinking in Latin America for the past decade.

If Cuba has long been a thorn in the US relationship with Latin America, it would have been unthinkable until recently for the president of Mexico not to attend a US-led summit. 

– Show of commitment –

Jason Marczak, who heads the Latin America center at the Atlantic Council, said that attendance was more robust than at the last Summit of the Americas in 2018 in Peru, which then US president Donald Trump did not attend. 

He credited Biden with addressing Latin America’s interests but said, “Many of the announcements require additional action and it’s going to be super important that action is a priority.”

“But I’ll tell you what stays — when people say you’re not present,” Kaine said.

Originally published as Biden faces uphill climb to restore US clout in Latin America


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