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Jill Biden’s six-day tour of Latin America is high-stakes diplomacy
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Jill Biden begins a six-day, high-stakes diplomatic tour of three Latin American countries, part of a flurry of activity that marks her most significant period as first lady on the world stage.

On Wednesday, she boarded a plane that will take her from the stunning Andean heights of Quito, Ecuador, through the coastal city of Panama, and into the bustling city of San José, the inland capital of Costa Rica which lies technically found in a rainforest.

This is the first lady’s second solo overseas trip this month, following her historic trip to western Ukraine on Mother’s Day – as well as Romania and Slovakia , to meet with refugees from the Russian war in Ukraine – and his third overall in the administration. (The first was in greed-ridden Japan leading the small US Olympic delegation.) And while visiting three of America’s hemispheric allies in Latin America is certainly less of a burden than entering a war zone, experts say this trip is like walking a diplomatic tightrope.

Biden’s tour through the capitals of central and northwestern South America is designed to be a prelude to the Summit of the Americas in June, the ninth gathering of leaders from the region. The United States is hosting the Los Angeles summit for the first time since the inaugural summit in Miami in 1994.

But the summit that the State Department’s website touts as “President Biden’s highest priority event for the region” is turning into “a disaster,” according to Ryan C. Berg, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic & International. Studies. The US plan to exclude the leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela has led to boycott threats from left-wing leaders across Latin America and the Caribbean, with Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador leading load. If it continues, the absence of a president from one of the largest countries in the region could undermine the work the United States hopes to accomplish at the summit, Berg said.

“I think there’s a sense of crisis building now, in the administration, where they could have a summit where only 50 percent of the countries in the region show up,” Berg said, adding that states United were right in their plan to exclude the region’s dictators from a democracy-enhancing summit.

A White House spokesperson did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

The first lady now enters into this delicate soup of diplomacy. It’s been just over a year since Vice President Harris’ first foreign trip to Guatemala and Mexico earned her criticism for her harsh words to would-be immigrants: “Don’t come .

Biden, however, put a deft twist on relationship building as first lady. During her trip to Ukraine in early May, she visited a school with first lady Olena Zelenska, who had been in hiding since the start of the Russian invasion in February. On Tuesday, she joined the president in Buffalo, to meet with survivors and families of victims of the racially charged mass shooting at a Tops supermarket. His trip to the Tokyo Olympics, when Japan was closed to foreigners due to coronavirus concerns, combined a bilateral visit with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga with images of Biden in empty stands, decked out in red, white and blue, as a single-woman cheering for Team USA’s team – whose members couldn’t even have their family members there.

On this trip, Biden chose to visit three pro-American allies. It serves a dual purpose of praising countries that are working toward American values ​​while trying to ensure at least minimal participation at the summit, Berg says.

In a region marked by instability, corruption and human rights abuses, it will likely shed light on the ways in which these countries have sought to promote democracy, stop migration and counter the role from China and Russia, according to Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Visiting friendly countries may seem like an easy task, but Anita McBride, director of the First Ladies Initiative at American University and former chief of staff to Laura Bush, says Biden is taking on the delicate task of ensuring allies remain friends. allies.

“You want those relationships to be strong, especially in a region full of different points of view, different personalities, different views on the leadership of the United States,” McBride says. “You can’t ignore your friends when trying to befriend your enemies.”

Biden’s tour begins in Quito, Ecuador, the world’s second highest capital at 9,350 feet. On Thursday, Biden will meet the president and first lady of Ecuador and visit a children’s development center. From there, she will travel to Panama City, where one of the main purposes of the visit will be to highlight the country’s efforts to combat HIV/AIDS. Her final stop in Costa Rica’s capital, San José, will make her the first senior US official to meet President Rodrigo Chaves, who won his election in April amid allegations of sexual harassment from several women while working at the World Bank.

Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica have all been affected by immigration, with large numbers of Venezuelans fleeing authoritarianism and economic downturn and ending up in Ecuador, or Venezuelans and Haitians crossing to Panama. Costa Rica, meanwhile, has kept its borders open to asylum seekers during the pandemic and has seen its refugee population from its northern neighbor Nicaragua double in eight months, with more than 150,000 people seeking asylum. new home there in February.

As part of her visit to Ecuador, she will visit migrant teenagers from Venezuela and Colombia, as well as Ecuadorian teenagers, who are undergoing accelerated education after dropping out of school.

Ahead of the Summit of the Americas, there is a sense of neglect among Latin American countries, said Rebecca Bill Chavez, president and CEO of the Inter-American Dialogue, a network of world leaders. “There is a growing perception in the region that the United States really doesn’t care about the region except for the Northern Triangle” – El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. In July 2021, the administration announced the Build Back Better World plan to bring $40 trillion of infrastructure to developing countries. “This commitment was made a year ago, but there was no follow-up,” says Bill Chavez.

The summit is three weeks away, but invitations have not been sent out to key leaders in the region. The website is sparse. “I saw an agenda about four weeks ago, and it was three-quarters of a page,” says Berg, who says he received the document from a Capitol Hill Democrat who was alarmed. If the agenda were stronger, says Berg, leaders would fear missing opportunities by not participating. But as things stand, he says, there would be little political cost to skipping the event.

The first lady’s Latin American trip also comes at a time when the administration’s attention is focused on Ukraine in Europe and the president is preparing for his first trip to Asia, where he is expected to use his time in Japan and South Korea to get these American Allies to pressure China, which refused to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Biden will reach out to “countries that just haven’t gotten that high-level, high-powered American attention,” Felbab-Brown said. She adds there is great value in the administration “spreading wealth” and sending “a very nice interlocutor” like Biden to places like Costa Rica, traditionally seen as a U.S. partner; Ecuador, which doesn’t get much exposure; and Panama, which is an important ally in relations with Venezuela.

In the absence of such US attention, Felbab-Brown says, China has been able to make economic inroads and Russia has inserted itself politically by supporting authoritarian regimes to disrupt regional stability and undermine United States.

Biden also brings with her a global spotlight. “I think there are really positive trends in these three nations. … When the first lady leaves, it shows that ‘Hey, we notice these efforts and we want to highlight them,'” says Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who chairs a subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“Look, she’s really good,” he says of Biden, who he dated when Joe Biden was vice president. “She has such an open, caring and winning attitude.” He also feels “comforted” by his visit and optimistic that this is the beginning of a more active role for the administration in the region.

Over the next six days, Biden will have to dodge some of the landmines Harris stepped into during his trip to Latin America, which may explain why migration is only a small part of the agenda. Harris is “a very engaging messenger,” says Felbab-Brown, “but the problem is that she’s tasked with delivering a message that’s hard to follow.” People want to be able to migrate and governments don’t want to be told to reform. “There are limits to how the charm can produce tremendous reception if you don’t like the message,” she says.

Whether Biden’s trip will trickle down to Latino voters who Democrats are struggling to retain in the midterm elections remains to be seen.

“What I find sad,” says Gabriel R. Sanchez, a researcher of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, “is that the majority of Latino voters, unfortunately, still don’t quite know what the government’s position is.” Biden administration on immigration, which to me is all about messaging.

Kaine says that even if Biden’s trip doesn’t move Latino voters much, he could still have an edge. Latino voters “know when we’re paying attention and when we’re not, and I think they’re often as frustrated with the lack of attention as people who are in those countries,” Kaine says.

Biden’s visit, he said, “I think will be seen as a sign of respect.”

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