President Joe Biden is hosting the “Summit of the Americas” this week in Los Angeles.

But the President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is not attending because several Latin American nations were not invited, including Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

López Obrador said he would send Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard in his place. Other Latin American and Caribbean nation’s leaders have said they won’t go, or they will send lower-profile delegations.

The Biden administration has said it invited countries based upon the acceptance of political freedom, human rights and democratic values.

But Biden met virtually with the leader of China, President Xi Jinping, in November and he also has had virtual and in-person meetings with Vladimir Putin, before the invasion of Ukraine. He also plans to meet with the Saudi Crown prince in July.

Clearly, these nations are hardly what we’d call democracies. So why does the U.S. engage with them and yet ignore some of our Latin American neighbors?

Latin America has not been at the top of the foreign policy agenda since Biden took office and relations with our neighbors should be given priority. Rather than give a cold shoulder to those we disagree with, we should try to negotiate and work with them to strengthen human rights and their economies.

Immigration, climate change, the pandemic and economic development are among the issues they are expected to discuss at the summit.

The U.S. Border Patrol reported more than 1.6 million encounters with migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border in the 2021 fiscal year, according to Pew Research. This is more than quadruple the number of the prior fiscal year, in part due to fewer border crossings during the pandemic, but it is the highest annual total on record.

In 2019, López Obrador, under pressure from Trump started cracking down on migrants from Central America and the Caribbean coming through Mexico by using his National Guard in southern Mexico.

Certainly, the two countries need to negotiate more humane treatment and ways for migrants and asylum seekers to find safety in Mexico or the U.S.

Mexico’s leftist president is on friendly terms with Cuba and visited there last month. He has praised the Communist president, Miguel Díaz-Canel.

“They have an incredible president. An honest man, hardworking, human, a really good person,” López Obrador said of Díaz-Canel, the Communist president who took office in 2019.

López Obrador also announced that Mexico will hire more than 500 Cuban doctors to help make up for a shortage of medical professionals, and that it will purchase COVID-19 vaccines from Cuba. He also called the U.S. blockade of Cuba “depraved.”

López Obrador has a higher approval rate among Mexican voters, 60%, than Biden at 42% among U.S. voters.

The Mexican president is doing the rare thing to stand up to the U.S. But both nations should work to engage in dialogue as too much is at stake.

Another country to watch is Colombia. Their next president will be between two candidates: a leftist former guerilla, Gustavo Petro, or a populist construction magnate Rodolfo Hernandez, who has said women should dedicate themselves to raising children. The runoff is June 19.

The Biden Administration recently agreed to loosen some economic and oil sanctions against Venezuela and their president, Nicolás Maduro. They want Maduro’s team to negotiate with political opponents led by Juan Guaidó, whom the United States considers Venezuela’s legitimate interim president.

The 60-year-old Cuba trade embargo is the longest-running set of U.S. economic sanctions in the world.

The Biden Administration has pledged to lift a cap on family remittances to Cuba, which constitute a substantial part of Cuba’s gross national income. The Inter-American Dialogue reported $1.53 billion in remittances from the U.S. to Cuba in 2019, while the Havana Consulting Group reported $3.72 billion.

President Donald Trump suspended U.S. flights to Cuban cities outside Havana in 2019. The Biden Administration has pledged to open up flights to outside of Havana.

But the Biden moves don’t go as far as the partial normalization of relations with Cuba under President Obama. Biden also risks angering the Republican Cuban voting bloc in Florida by opening up relations with Cuba.

The Biden Administration also will allow American groups to visit Cuba on educational trips. 

The summit is an opportunity for the U.S. to improve relations with our neighbors to the south. Hopefully, enough of them will show up to have a meaningful dialogue.

Teresa Puente

Teresa Puente has spent her career reporting on immigration and Latino issues in the U.S. and has also reported extensively from Mexico. Previously, she was a staff reporter at the Chicago Tribune and...