US lays out pledges as Biden woos Latin American leaders

Publicado: 08/06/2022

Los Angeles (AFP) -

US President Joe Biden touched down in Los Angeles on Wednesday for a Latin America summit at which he hopes to woo back the region as his administration pledged greater economic cooperation, food aid and a program to train half a million health workers.

Biden is hoping to cement ties with a region long seen by Washington as its turf but where China has quickly emerged as a leading investor, although the administration has focused on modest progress rather than sweeping proposals.

'There's a common challenge for every single democracy in our hemisphere -- and that's to actually deliver concrete results for people,' Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at the week-long summit.

As Biden flew across the country, his national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, said the president would unveil $300 million in assistance to address the region's food insecurity, which has been on the rise as Russia's invasion of Ukraine disrupts grain exports.

The White House also announced a new Americas Health Corps that aims to improve the skills of 500,000 health workers across the region, building on the lessons from Covid-19, which hit the Western Hemisphere especially hard.

The health training will cost $100 million, although the United States will not contribute it all and will seek to raise funds, including through the Pan American Health Organization, an administration official said.

China has stepped up its role in Latin America during the pandemic, moving early to supply vaccines, and US nemesis Cuba has long exported its state-employed doctors.

Biden will separately announce plans for a hemisphere-wide 'economic partnership,' although there were few concrete commitments as part of it.

The announcements comes a day after Vice President Kamala Harris detailed $1.9 billion in private sector investment in impoverished and violence-ravaged El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

The troubles in the so-called Northern Triangle, as well as Haiti, have generated a soaring number of migrants to the United States, setting off a domestic furor as Donald Trump's Republican Party demands efforts to stop them.

- Meeting with 'Tropical Trump' -

Draining US diplomatic energy ahead of the summit, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador refused to attend as he insisted that Biden invite the leftist leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, shunned on the grounds that they are autocrats.

Biden will have a potentially awkward first meeting Thursday with President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Latin America's most populous nation.

A Trump supporter, Bolsonaro has raised doubts about the legitimacy both of upcoming voting in Brazil and, on the eve of his trip, of Biden's own election.

Sullivan said that Biden would not shy away from the topic and would discuss the importance of 'open, free, fair, transparent democratic elections.'

Biden has stood firm on democracy at the summit even as he considers going next month to Saudi Arabia, a critical oil supplier. But Biden has moved away from another past goal -- free trade.

The Summit of the Americas is the first in the United States since the inaugural edition in 1994 was held in Miami under Bill Clinton, who proposed a free-trade zone that would span the hemisphere -- but exclude communist-ruled Cuba.

The White House billed Biden's summit as an update to Clinton's vision. But the US political mood has since dramatically soured on free trade, with Trump rising to power denouncing liberalization as harmful to US workers.

- Trade deal lite -

The Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity, to be announced by Biden, will look at coordinating on standards and supply chains but will not offer new market access -- a key incentive offered to the region by China, with its billion-plus consumer market.

Biden last month similarly unveiled an Asian partnership on setting economic standards as he visited Tokyo.

But unlike in Asia, the United States already has free trade deals with a number of major Latin American nations including Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Peru.

In an implicit contrast to Beijing, Sullivan said the United States was worried less about flashy announcements than about supporting more inclusive economic growth.

'The United States has never seen its comparative advantages in the world as just leveraging huge numbers of state dollars, but rather leveraging all of the tools available to us,' he said.

The summit is focused in large part on the role of the private sector.

Mauricio Claver-Carone, the president of the Inter-American Development Bank, said that Latin America can increasingly be seen as a 'sea of peace' for investors amid global turbulence.

The head of the bank, which provides development funding in Latin America, told AFP he saw a rise of 'nearshoring,' with businesses moving closer to markets instead of to China.

In Latin America, 'whether they are governments of the left or the right, they all want foreign investment, they all want nearshoring, they all want economic growth,' he said.

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