The inaugural ceremony of the U.S.-hosted Summit of the Americas kicked off here on Wednesday, with a notable absence of several key regional leaders.
The official opening ceremony for the summit, running from June 8 through June 10, was hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden.
The president will lead the summit, which is being hosted by the United States for the first time since the inaugural event in 1994, with leaders from North, South and Central America, as well as the Caribbean. The group is expected to discuss global issues including ways to boost economic growth, address climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador reacts during his morning press conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, capital of Mexico, June 6, 2022. (Photo by Francisco Canedo/Xinhua)
However, the summit was overshadowed by the absence of multiple Latin American leaders, including those of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, who boycotted the meeting and those of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, who were excluded by Washington. Meanwhile, Uruguay's president said he had contracted COVID-19, and Bolivia also declined to attend.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, arguably the most important Latin American leader on the summit's guest list, finally announced Monday morning that he would stay at home.
"There cannot be a Summit of the Americas if all countries of the Americas cannot attend," Lopez Obrador said at his daily press conference in Mexico City. "This is to continue the old interventionist policies, lacking respect for nations and their people."
Biden administration officials sought to downplay the absence of Lopez Obrador. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre insisted the Mexican delegation, even without its president, would make "significant contributions" to the summit and its goals. However, experts regard it as a disaster and embarrassment for U.S. diplomacy.
Protestors attend a rally near the Los Angeles Convention Center where the ninth Summit of the Americas is held in Los Angeles, the United States, June 8, 2022. (Photo by Zeng Hui/Xinhua)
CNN reported Wednesday that the absence of the leaders are notable "since the United States has worked to cultivate those leaders as partners on immigration, an issue that looms as a political liability for Biden."
"8 nations did not send a leader-level official to the most important event we have held on the region in decades. Speaks volumes about how badly we've managed relations with our neighbors..." Brett Bruen, who served in the Obama Administration as director of global engagement, tweeted Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday, hundreds of people from across the Americas gathered in Los Angeles downtown to host three days of art, music, speakers, debates, workshops, panel discussions, performances in order to outshine the ninth Summit of the Americas.