Summit of the Americas

Upcoming Summit Could Begin to Heal US-Latin America Ties

Biden should propose a new era of broad pan-American cooperation.

The June 6 Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles has laid bare the United States’ diminishing profile in Latin America, with Mexico and others threatening to abstain unless Washington invites the Venezuelan regime and other authoritarians. Rather than stress about who won’t show, the White House should propose a bold partnership to those who will. 

U.S. officials would do well to admit that Washington has long neglected Latin American relationships. Instead of trying to push back with a laundry list of “deliverables,” they should propose a new era of broad pan-American cooperation on democracy, human rights, and economic prosperity. This renewed hemispheric partnership should check China’s and Russia’s growing influence, engage the Indo-Pacific region and NATO, and act on not just regional but global challenges.

The Biden administration should use the Summit to describe the region’s importance to key White House priorities, from Build Back Better to the Indo-Pacific Strategy, including strategic competition with Beijing and the recently unveiled Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. U.S. officials have indicated that they intend to discuss issues related to the Framework at the Summit. But they should also explicitly invite Latin American countries to participate in it, following the precedent of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, which includes Mexico, Chile, Peru, and Canada. 

U.S. officials should come prepared to explain how Latin American can help counter Chinese and Russian efforts to upend international norms and promote authoritarian practices. As part of this, they should describe and explicitly criticize China’s support for Russia’s Ukraine invasion to counter propaganda and false messaging from Beijing and Moscow.

The Biden administration, which recently designated Colombia a major non-NATO ally along with Brazil and Argentina, should invite more Latin American partners to cooperate with the alliance. Here again, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Beijing’s support would be a timely topic of discussion. One specific area of cooperation might be migration—NATO is currently dealing with the forced displacement of Ukrainians, while Latin America faces similar challenges, such as the massive displacement of Venezuelans, largely to Colombia. 

Another useful topic to discuss would be alternative sources of critical goods. Brazil,for example, has been reluctant to punish Moscow with sanctions because its food supply depends on Russian fertilizer. 

Still another would be safeguarding data networks. The Clean Network provides a helpful framework, which a few Latin American countries—Brazil, Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic—have already signed on to.

By highlighting the hemisphere’s importance to global challenges, the White House would signal that it is prioritizing ties with its neighbors—and not solely to advance U.S. interests. Acknowledging the extra-hemispheric dynamics that compound regional challenges is important, but rather than harp on the risks of engagement with China, Washington should propose better alternatives, framing them in terms of advancing the region’s security and economic interests. 

Gabriel Alvarado is a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global China Hub. He also works at Pointe Bello, a strategic intelligence firm. He previously worked in the U.S. government, including at the U.S. Department of State in the bureaus of Western Hemisphere and East Asian and Pacific Affairs.