U.S. President Joe Biden was openly rebuked on Thursday by some of the Western Hemisphere’s leaders over his decision to exclude Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela from this week’s Summit of the Americas, while outside, progressive activists continue to hold protests and teach-ins.
“The countries in the world are saying: Look, we are sick of this.”
Shortly after Biden gave a speech exalting the virtues of democracy in the region, Belize Prime Minister John Briceno denounced his refusal to invite government officials from countries that reject Washington’s dictates, calling the “illegal blockade against Cuba” an “affront to humanity.”
“The time has come, Mr. president, to lift the blockade,” Briceno said to Biden, who was seated just a few feet away.
Briceno was followed by Argentina’s left-leaning president, Alberto Fernandez.
“The silence of those who are absent is calling to us,” said Fernandez, who declared that the host country lacks the authority to impose “right of admission” to the semi-annual meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS), held this year in Los Angeles.
Biden’s decision to bar Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela from this week’s gathering prompted the presidents of Mexico, Honduras, and other countries to stay home in protest.
In addition to this boycott—which has dealt a blow to Biden’s attempt to reassert U.S. power in the hemisphere, including through a proposed trade initiative aimed at facilitating recovery from the coronavirus crisis and countering China’s growing economic influence in the region—Biden has faced opposition in the streets.
Since Wednesday, left-wing intellectuals, artists, and campaigners have demonstrated outside the Los Angeles Convention Center, where Biden’s “Summit of Exclusion” is happening, and held workshops, debates, and performances at the nearby Los Angeles Trade Technical College.
This People’s Summit for Democracy—a multi-day counter-mobilization to discuss the causes of and solutions to problems facing millions of working-class people throughout the Americas—is supported by a broad coalition of more than 250 progressive organizations, including labor unions and anti-war groups.
“The United States has lost its moral authority,” Stephanie Brito of the International People’s Assembly said earlier this week in a statement. “A country that is rife with inequality, homelessness, voter suppression, police brutality, and racism, as well as the suppression of basic rights of women, has no grounds to convene a summit about the promotion of democracy and freedom.”
On Friday morning, a group of activists marched to the gates of the convention center in downtown Los Angeles to deliver a letter decrying Biden’s continuation of his predecessor’s belligerent foreign policies.
“While Biden made many promises to do away with [former U.S. President] Donald Trump’s hard-line, warlike policy against Latin America and the Caribbean, he has done very little in practice,” Manolo De Los Santos, one of the organizers of Friday’s rally, said in a statement.
Despite Democratic lawmakers’ pleas and Biden’s own campaign pledge to reverse Trump’s “failed” approach to Cuba—which included implementing more than 200 punitive policies following Obama-era efforts at normalization—the White House has imposed additional sanctions in recent months, intensifying Washington’s 60-year embargo on the Caribbean island.
In addition, Biden has ignored Rep. Jim McGovern’s (D-Mass.) call for an end to the deadly sanctions regime the U.S. has unilaterally and unlawfully imposed on Venezuela since 2017.
Washington still does not officially recognize Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro as the legitimate leader of the South American country even though he was reelected last year in a contest that U.S. legal observers called fair. Instead, the U.S. recognizes Juan Guaidó—an unelected and unpopular right-wing opposition figure who participated in a failed, Trump-backed bid to overthrow Maduro in 2019—as interim president. Biden previously invited the Venezuelan coup leader to his administration’s so-called Summit for Democracy in December.
“The people of Cuba and Venezuela still suffer under criminal blockades costing them not only tens of millions of dollars in losses, but also thousands of lives through the denial of food and medicine,” said De Los Santos. “These policies of strangulation of entire populations are not only immoral, but they are also illegal under international law.”
As for Nicaragua, CodePink accused the Biden administration of tightening “its stranglehold” on the Central American nation “following its demand for autonomy and withdrawal from the imperialist, coup-mongering Organization of American States.”
The U.S.-based peace group is calling for the abolition of the OAS, which has abetted the obstruction of multiple democratic elections in the Western Hemisphere. In addition to several interventions in Haiti, the OAS played a decisive role in Bolivia’s bloody 2019 military coup, wherein socialist President Evo Morales was replaced by Jeanine Añez, a right-wing dictator who has since been defeated and jailed for human rights abuses.
Further exposing U.S. hypocrisy at the Summit of the Americas, the Biden administration did not hesitate to extend invitations to far-right Presidents Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and Iván Duque of Colombia despite ample evidence of anti-democratic repression in both countries.
During his three-year reign, Bolsonaro has accelerated the destruction of the Amazon rainforest—imperiling Indigenous peoples and the future of the planet—and responded so poorly to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic that Brazil’s Congress has accused him of crimes against humanity. In addition, Bolsonaro has emulated his U.S. ally Trump by preemptively casting doubt on the legitimacy of Brazil’s upcoming election, which he is projected to lose to the country’s former leftist president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
The Summit of the Americas “was a failure before it started,” Daniel Kovalik, who teaches international human rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, told teleSUR on Friday. “Nothing will come out of it of any substance.”
“The irony is the U.S. is isolating itself,” Kovalik continued. “That’s what it comes down to. The countries in the world are saying: Look, we are sick of this. We are sick of you telling us who we can talk to, who we can be friends with, and what kind of economy we can have. I don’t think the U.S. has learned its lesson yet.”
To conclude the People’s Summit for Democracy, activists intend to march to the Los Angeles Convention Center at 5:00 pm PT on Friday. Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, Maduro, and Morales are expected to join the closing plenary via video.