There was a scandal before the summit: Biden shows Latin America his hard hand

The US border agency continues to record record numbers of illegal crossings.

There was a scandal before the summit: Biden shows Latin America his hard hand

The US border agency continues to record record numbers of illegal crossings. The summit of the American states is therefore about the poverty-stricken Central American Triangle. But before that, the main focus is on who the USA has refused to take part in.

Actually, the United States wanted to talk about the future at the summit of the Organization of American States (OAS) - in particular about the economy and about measures against the refugee movements in the region, which is also putting the White House under pressure. At the southern border of the United States, the border agency has registered more attempted crossings than ever before this year, there are already more than 1.2 million. But instead of content, in the run-up to America's most important diplomatic event, the focus was on who is allowed to come and who wants to come. After all, the summit only happens every few years.

The United States is hosting for the first time since 1994 - and has banned Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua from participating in Los Angeles. The reason is "concerns about human rights and a lack of democracy," said a representative of the US government. "One of the key issues at the summit is democracy, and these countries are not examples of that, to say the least," said the US State Department spokesman. However, Cuba's head of state, Miguel Díaz-Canel, said he would not attend the summit under any circumstances, even if invited.

The disinviction is a diplomatic affront with which US President Joe Biden shows his iron fist: It either goes as we want it or it doesn't go at all. The White House is also focusing on confrontation with regard to the upcoming congressional elections. Biden's advisors reportedly want to prevent the US government from showing itself to be too soft on the three authoritarian states in the neighborhood. Cuban exiles in Florida, for example, are an important constituency that can influence the outcome of November's congressional elections. The Democrats want to lose as few seats as possible in the state.

Biden has appointed his Vice President Kamala Harris to be the refugee commissioner. Nevertheless, the number of registered transfers is crystal clear on a record course. The so-called Title 42, a pandemic regulation that allows the US border authorities to block any asylum applications with reference to a health emergency in the country, still applies. This is a thorn in the self-image of the progressive wing in particular, but also of many other Democrats. After all, they see themselves as the more humane of the two parties. Biden and Harris wanted to overturn the rule in May, but a court stopped the plan for the time being.

Last year, border officials stopped 1.73 million people en route to the United States, an all-time high. The monthly average is currently significantly higher, with more than 234,000 people arrested in April alone. So 2022 will be another record year. However, the comparison to the past is deceptive, because the border only gradually became less permeable, which means that in the past hundreds of thousands to millions of crossings were not even registered. The still valid Title 42 also plays its part. Anyone who has made the long journey from Central America and is deported back to Mexico may just try it again. And again. Each attempt is totaled by US Borders.

The migrants have to cross Mexico, but President Andrés Lopez Obrador is staying away from the summit in the neighboring country in protest. "There can be no summit of the Americas if all states do not participate," said the head of state. Instead, his Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard is present with a delegation. The United States is "inconsistent if not contradictory" in refusing to invite Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua while engaging with authoritarian governments in Southeast Asia, Ebrard said. The presidents of Honduras and Guatemala are not represented either. It is unclear whether the controversial head of state of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, will come.

In addition to the migration movements towards the USA, the region as a whole is struggling with the worst refugee crisis in its history. Several million people have fled Venezuela to other countries, mostly to neighboring Colombia. The United States said beforehand that they would like to set a framework for how refugees should be dealt with in the future. Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are very skeptical about such a regional arrangement.

From the point of view of the big brother in the north, the OAS summit should show that there is a plan in the White House to help with the increasingly urgent problems of the poverty-stricken states. International organizations, the United States and others agree that structural poverty is one of the two main drivers of northbound migration. In addition, Central America is one of the regions most affected by climate change. For years, a dry corridor has been running through the triangle of countries to southern Mexico, making it difficult for people to earn a living from their work. Many in the rural areas make a living from family farming, but the crops in their fields are withering. So they're on their way.

As Vice President Barack Obama, Biden himself was entrusted with the migration problem in Central America. In his 2020 election campaign against then-incumbent Donald Trump, he showed El Salvador as a shining example of effective aid for the Central American states. With hundreds of millions of dollars for school-age programs, local government and police training, the number of Salvadoran migrants apprehended at the US border halved between 2016 and 2018. Donald Trump canceled the Central America Triangle aid program anyway. The reason given was that the results were not enough for him. However, it was probably partly a political campaign maneuver. That year, 2018, congressional elections were also held, and migration mobilized.

In the ensuing presidential campaign, Biden announced a new $4 billion structural recovery program to help the Central American Triangle with its immense problems. But since Biden's election, not much has been heard in this direction, on the contrary. For example, the US government considers the governments of Honduras and Guatemala to be too corrupt and therefore doubts that aid funds are being used efficiently. In El Salvador, Bukele has made great strides towards an authoritarian government, which the US State Department is observing extremely critically. In addition, public finances are not transparent. El Salvador has adopted Bitcoin as its official currency and regularly invests in the cryptocurrency with government funds.

Instead of direct aid from the US budget, the White House has therefore found a creative alternative: to announce investments promised by companies as an aid program. Since May 2021, Harris has openly solicited such commitments and showcased their accomplishments. In a first tranche, several companies announced in December 2021 that they wanted to invest a total of 1.2 billion dollars. Now there are more, a total of 1.9 billion dollars. The pledges for the largest commitments have been made by the financial company Visa, which wants to integrate more people into the banking system, and the textile manufacturer GAP, which wants to use more raw materials from the region.

Harris predicts a "direct impact on quality of life" because of the investments. The countries desperately needed this. According to the latest available data, the poverty rate in El Salvador was 26.2 percent of the population, according to the World Bank, 48 percent in Honduras and almost 60 percent in Guatemala. The consequences of Corona and the Ukraine war also hit people across Latin America to the core. The joint summit of the Americas would have been a good opportunity to chart a common path out of the crisis. However, according to US diplomats, in all likelihood there will be no more than a joint declaration of intent.

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