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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Biden calls on CEOs to invest in Latin America

President Joe Biden speaks at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles on June 8, 2022. Opening the three-day summit, the president delivered a version of his domestic economic pitch, urging governments to invest in workers and the middle class.

By Michael D. Shear

President Joe Biden on Thursday challenged business executives to make long-term investments in Latin America, pledging his administration’s help in building more resilient economic systems that will put people to work and lift the region’s countries out of hardship.

Biden spoke as he welcomed leaders from Latin America to a three-day regional summit, pressing ahead with the gathering despite being snubbed by the heads of Mexico and all three countries that make up the Northern Triangle, all of whom have refused to attend.

“I know the real barriers for you to contend with,” Biden told the gathering of chief executives from around the region who were in Los Angeles for the ninth Summit of the Americas. “That’s why we want to work with you to level the playing field.”

Biden said his administration would work to open up new areas of private sector investment that are “not only economically viable, but are highly desirable.” And the president said the executives should make decisions not as a favor to him or other leaders in the region.

It is in “your own overwhelming economic self interest,” he said.

Biden had hoped to assemble the leaders of the hemisphere as a show of American strength in confronting corruption, poverty, health concerns, climate change and migration. Instead, his refusal to invite several authoritarian leaders prompted a boycott by several key nations.

As the meeting convened Thursday with those who agreed to attend, the diplomatic failure loomed large, raising questions about the role of the United States in helping a region wracked by political instability, natural disasters and the aftermath of the pandemic.

“To state the obvious, our region is large and diverse,” Biden told the leaders Wednesday evening. “We don’t always agree on everything, but because we’re democracies, we work through our disagreements with mutual respect and dialogue.”

President Donald Trump took actions that deepened the mistrust felt by leaders in Latin America during his four years in office. He abandoned or delayed foreign aid to the region, threatened Mexico with tariffs, used racist rhetoric and implemented severe border restrictions seen as illegal and inhumane by many.

Biden was elected in part on the promise of a new kind of leadership toward the countries and the people of Latin America. But while his rhetoric is vastly different from that of Trump, he has struggled to make good on his immigration and border agenda, leaving him with less to show for his ambitions than many of his supporters had hoped.

Some of Trump’s most high-profile efforts to block migrants from entering the United States remain in place, constant irritants for the country’s relationships with its neighbors. Biden’s administration is still turning people away at the border using the Title 42 health regulations that his predecessor put in place during the pandemic. And despite trying to end it, Biden continues to implement a policy that forces some asylum applicants to wait in unsafe camps in Mexico.

The complete overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, which Biden promised, remains stuck in Congress, with no prospect of progress.

But White House officials said the president was confident that despite the no-shows at the summit, the United States could play a significant role in helping the region become more prosperous. Jake Sullivan, the president’s National Security Adviser, told reporters on Air Force One on Wednesday that the United States would be a better partner for Latin American countries than China, which is seeking influence in the region.

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