In a signal that it might backtrack on statements about excluding authoritarian governments from the upcoming Summit of the Americas, the Biden administration is considering inviting a representative of the Cuban government after Mexico and other countries threatened to boycott the gathering of leaders around the hemisphere.
The Associated Press reported the plan would entail inviting an official from Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs but not the minister himself, Bruno Rodriguez, a frequent critic of the United States.
The White House has started sending the official invitations to the heads of states in Latin America and the Caribbean to attend the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles next month, but it has not made a final decision about the exclusion of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, an administration official told the Miami Herald.
“The first tranche of invitations for the Summit of the America invitations went out on Wednesday,” the official told the Herald. “We are still evaluating options on how to best incorporate the voices of the Cuban, Venezuelan, and Nicaraguan people into the Summit process.”
The White House did not respond to questions about the plan to invite the Cuban official.
Previously, several State Department officials hinted that the authoritarian governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua would not be invited but have added that the final decision would come from the White House.
The mixed messages continued Friday, when the State Department certified that Cuba is “not cooperating fully” in the fight against terrorism.
The Summit of the Americas, organized by the Organization of American States and the host country every few years, is the largest gathering of Western Hemisphere leaders. The ninth summit will take place June 8-10, but the uncertainty about who will show up continues as presidents of Mexico, Brazil, Bolivia and others have said that they will skip it for different reasons.
Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador has forcefully pushed back against the administration’s plans to exclude the authoritarian leaders of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, including in a phone call with President Joe Biden. Mexico’s absence would be noticeable at a summit where countries are expected to reach a regional migration agreement.
Much of the debate is centered around Cuba, because Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega already said he is not interested in attending the summit and Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro was indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice on narcotrafficking charges and is not likely to travel to the United States.
On Wednesday, López-Obrador talked to former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, a White House special adviser for the summit, in a phone call to discuss the event’s agenda and the invitation list.
“It was an interesting, frank conversation,” Mexican foreign affairs Minister Marcelo Ebrard later said in a video.
On Friday morning, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted that “Biden will soon invite the regime in Cuba to the Summit of the Americas,” prompting concern among Cuban activists and exiles who are celebrating the 120th anniversary of Cuba’s independence from Spain.
The Biden administration has been under criticism by some Cuban exiles and Florida Republicans over the easing of some sanctions against Cuba and Venezuela this week. The measures were also criticized by South Florida Democrats enmeshed in tough local races.
“It’s difficult to see how inviting an official representative of the Cuban government at any level would support democratic governance in the hemisphere or be consistent with the Inter American Democratic Charter, particularly after the passage of the draconian new Cuban penal code and less than a year after the San Isidro protests were brutally suppressed,” said Eric Farnsworth, a former State Department official and vice president of Americas Society/Council of the Americas.
Farnsworth, who helped organize the first summit in Miami in 1994, said the White House should consider meeting with a delegation of Cuban opposition leaders during the summit.
Cuban state media reported that the U.S. government denied the visa petitions of 23 members of Cuban pro-government organizations that wanted to attend a civil society event in session during the summit’s week. In the past two summits attended by Cuba in Panama and Peru, similar delegations claiming to be members of non-governmental organizations staged so-called acts of repudiation against Cuban dissidents attending and boycotted several sessions where the dissidents were present.
Biden officials have expressed frustration about how the drama over the invitations has shifted the attention away from the important conversations about pandemic recovery, health systems, climate change, trade, supply chains and other issues that are expected to take place in Los Angeles.
But former officials involved in the organization of the first summit in Miami believe that the lack of senior officials with experience and knowledge of the region, layers of bureaucracy and the war in Ukraine have all affected how the White House’s National Security Council has handled the event planning.
First wife Jill Biden was sent to Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica on a last-minute tour this week, the sort of diplomatic outreach that was supposed to happen with more anticipation.
"We spend months traveling around the region,” said Richard Feinberg, a Professor Emeritus at the University of California at San Diego and former NSC Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs.
A senior administration official also said this week the policy changes toward Cuba — lifting the cap on remittances, restoring flights to cities outside Havana, and a family reunification program — were not linked to the controversy over the summit invites.
But that has precisely happened in the past with other summits, said Feinberg, who believes that Mexican President López Obrador “has leveraged” the importance that the event carries for the United States to press for loosening restrictions on Cuba.
“When Obama finally moved to establish diplomatic relations with Havana in 2014 and 2015, he bowed to Latin American demands, as Latin leaders threatened to boycott the scheduled Summit of the Americas that spring in Panama,” he said.
Ultimately, Feinberg said, “It’s reasonable for the administration not to allow the issue of Cuba to be such a thorn in Interamerican relations that disrupt U.S. foreign policy with key allies.”
———©2022 Miami Herald. Visit at miamiherald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.