Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Tuesday he will skip the Summit of the Americas to be held in June in Los Angeles unless every head of government in the Western Hemisphere receives an invitation to attend.
“If [anyone] is excluded, if everyone is not invited, a representation from the Mexican government will go, but I would not go,” López Obrador said at his daily press conference, adding he would be represented by Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard.
López Obrador’s absence from the summit could shrink the event’s agenda significantly, as Mexico plays an outsize role in U.S. relations with the Western Hemisphere on top issues including migration, security and trade.
The snub could also be a black eye for President Biden, who’s showcasing a cooperative diplomatic approach to the region, in contrast with former President Trump’s transactional carrot-and-stick diplomacy.
López Obrador, who kept in Trump’s good graces and has been actively courted by Biden, praised the U.S. president but lamented the United States’s treatment of Cuba.
“We have … a very good relationship with President Biden, we consider him a good man, a person of good sentiments, but there is still that parasitic interventionist policy that’s been in place more than two centuries,” said López Obrador.
The Mexican president on Sunday visited Cuba for the first time as head of state, participating in joint ceremonies with Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel.
Díaz-Canel was López Obrador’s guest of honor for independence day celebrations in Mexico City in September.
While the Summit of the Americas guest list has still not been made public, U.S. officials have said they don’t intend to invite Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela’s de facto President Nicolás Maduro.
Brian Nichols, the top State Department official for the Western Hemisphere, last week said those three governments would not be included because of their failure to adhere to the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
Still, Latin American and Caribbean governments are wary of the multilateral summit turning into a showcase of U.S. policy in the region, and are pressuring the United States to present an inclusive guest list.
While the United States could relatively easily make a case to exclude Maduro, who the U.S. does not recognize as Venezuela’s legitimate president — and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, reelected for a fourth term in 2021 in elections widely viewed as fraudulent, it would be a harder lift to convince the region to accept Cuba’s absence.
The question of Cuban presence at the summits has previously been a point of contention between U.S. officials and summit hosts, but with the Summit of the Americas to be held in the United States, it could put the host committee between a rock and a hard place.
Still, U.S. policy toward Cuba remains a difficult political issue within the United States, and Biden would risk shaking up a sensitive issue in the lead-up to November’s midterms.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menéndez (D-N.J.) told The Hill in April that inviting Cuba would be like “letting the fox into the henhouse,” and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said the Biden administration’s migration talks with Cuban officials spurred Cuban interest in the summit.
But López Obrador said he would not change his mind on account of U.S. domestic politics.
“I know, I’m aware that there are political groups in the United States that bet on confrontation, that would like to hold hostage the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, as is the case with the Cuban blockade that is highly promoted by Cuban politicians who have a lot of influence in the United States,” said López Obrador.
“But I consider the blockade improper, inhumane and I also consider that it is vile to use a political strategy of this nature with electoral political purposes,” he added.