Blink defends the exclusion of Cuba from the Summit of the Americas

Despite the absence of presidents from some of the region’s key countries, the United States-hosted Summit of the Americas, which will take place in Los Angeles this week, can serve as a venue for sensitive dialogue and incremental problem-solving, the principal said Thursday. American diplomat.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken defended the Biden administration decision to exclude Cuba, along with Nicaragua and Venezuela, inviting other governments with equally questionable democratic credentials such as Brazil.

The outrage prompted Mexico and most of Central America to send lower-level delegations to a conference seen as a milestone for the region, a great embarrassment for a country hosting the event for the first time since its 1994 inaugural session in Miami.

“The idea that some countries are not here, I would dispute,” Blinken said, observing him Present dissidents, artists and members of civil society from Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela – although they have almost no power in their countries. “I would say they are more representative of their respective countries than the regimes that are in place at the moment.”

Blinken noted that the United States entered into negotiations with Cuba earlier this year on immigration-related issues and that the Biden administration relaxed some of the restrictions imposed by former President Trump on travel, visas and remittances involving Cubans and US citizens. But Cuban officials say most of these measures were purely cosmetic with little practical effect in alleviating the suffering of that country’s citizens.

Marilyn Monroe drag queens protest the Summit of the Americas in downtown Los Angeles.

Marilyn Monroe’s drag queens protest against the Summit of the Americas calling for action against climate change.

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

the The slow pace at which the Biden administration sought better relationships with Cuba it surprised and disappointed many supporters of détente, a softening that began with then President Obama when Biden was Vice President and Washington finally attempted to end half a century of Cold War hostility.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez told the Times in a separate interview Thursday that the summit was a “disaster” because the conversation lacked valuable information that countries like his could have provided, particularly regarding climate change and the fight against COVID-19.

Blinken also used the summit to highlight concern for press freedom in a region where journalists are often killed, threatened or sued to silence, and acknowledged that it is often the leaders of those countries who take the lead. responsibility. Several presidents, prime ministers, governors and mayors allow for a climate of impunity that gives rise to crimes against journalists. Seventeen journalists were killed in the Americas just this year as a result of their work, according to UNESCO.

The US goal, Blinken said, is to strengthen oversight organizations that advocate for the safety of journalists and to pressure government leaders on the issue.

“We are first of all trying to highlight this, [and] and second, to engage directly with governments on the need to take action to protect journalists, ”Blinken said.

He announced that at the conclusion of the summit, the United States will designate a new $ 75 million contribution to 300 civil society and human rights groups in Latin America, including some working on journalist safety.

“We see governments around the world using so-called legal tools to effectively outsmart the free press, especially the independent media, for example, with lawsuits designed to make them fail,” Blinken said. “We have put in place funds that journalists can draw on and media companies can draw on in order to defend themselves against this type of prosecution.”

Salvadoran activist Obbi Fenix ​​protests against immigration reform outside the Summit.

Salvadoran activist Obbi Fenix ​​protests against immigration reform outside the Summit.

(Raul Roa / Los Angeles Times)

He cited Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador, who regularly speaks out against journalists who criticize him, as someone who has promised to take “preventive action” to stop the violence that persecutes journalists in that country.

Asked whether the Biden administration’s plans to meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman later this month would undermine the rhetoric about freedom of the press, Blinken said there were overriding interests that took precedence.

The heir apparent was implicated in the murder of Saudi US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi four years ago at a Saudi consulate in Turkey. The Biden administration has vowed to ostracize the crown prince, but has now found Saudi Arabia more prominent in efforts to address the world’s energy supplies and challenge an increasingly belligerent Iran.

Between rifts in the Americas and assaults on democracy across the region – including the United States – and around the world, a summit that apparently appears to achieve little, at least brings together a few people to highlight pressing issues.

“The guiding principle is that to address these problems, virtually all of them require some level of cross-border cooperation,” Blinken said. “None of our countries can do it alone. And we are finding that with all of these – practically all of these – governments, even when there are political differences between us, there is also a drive to find ways to cooperate, because it is in everyone’s interest to do so. “