Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez weighed in on the controversy surrounding the upcoming Summit of the Americas, saying dictatorships should be unwelcome, while chaos continues to swirl around the Biden administration’s planning of the forum.
The 9th Summit of the Americas is set to be held in Los Angeles, California, beginning Monday. The conference, which began in 1994, brings together countries in the Western Hemisphere within the Organization of American States and is focused on promoting pro-democracy values and coordination among heads of state and top companies with influence in the region.
Fox News talked to President Duque about the upcoming summit during an exclusive interview last week, and the leader was adamant that only democratic regimes should be allowed to participate.
“All the members of the Organization of American States, we all defend democracy. And if you want to be a member of the organization, you have to defend democracies. So I clearly believe that the Summit of the Americas shall not be an instrument of non-democratic regimes to participate in order to try to get diplomatic legitimacy. I think no dictatorship shall participate in the Summit of the Americas,” he told Fox News.
Controversy around this year’s summit has developed because the Biden administration has not yet released a final list of countries that have been invited or a final agenda. In addition, protests by Latin American immigrants are planned outside the event to protest autocratic leadership in countries such as Nicaragua, Cuba, and Venezuela.
A report by Reuters early Monday states that the Biden administration has officially decided to exclude the governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua from the summit.
In addition, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador confirmed early Monday that he would not be attending the summit after threatening to boycott the event if Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela were not extended invitations.
In response to a question about President López saying the forum must be open to everybody, Duque disagreed.
“I’m not going to enter into a dispute with President López Obrador, I have a good relationship with him. But maybe if we disagree on that, I respectfully disagree because I think this forum is not a forum for dictatorships to participate. It’s clearly the value of democracy that has united the hemisphere,” Duque told Fox News.
“The Democratic Inter-American Charter that was signed on September 11, 2001, is the major achievement in diplomatic terms where we have rejected any form of autocracy in the hemisphere. So this was not a forum for autocrats. This is a forum for people who clearly embrace the value of democracy.”
The Colombian president plans to focus on three major issues while at the summit: migration, climate change solutions, and economic reactivation coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Duque touted a recent milestone on immigration during his interview with Fox News, saying Colombia has granted one million temporary protection status cards for Venezuelans entering the country. The president also stressed the opportunity Colombia has to pave the way for the solution against climate change.
“I think economic reactivation in the post-pandemic world is needed. The U.S. can bring a lot of assets from their companies that were in Asia in order to be located close to the U.S. market but at the same time open job opportunities for many people in Latin American countries. And I clearly believe that will be a deterrent to have a further migration movement towards the U.S. southern border.”
Sergio de la Peña, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere affairs at the Pentagon and a retired U.S. Army officer, told Fox News he agrees with Duque that the forum should only welcome democracies, and Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela do not fit that criteria.
The summit generally deals with “security and prosperity” as core principles, said de la Peña, and it was designed “to be an opportunity for the leadership of this entire hemisphere to get together to discuss issues of mutual interest.”
He said that it’s the “prerogative of the host” to extend invitations to the world leaders, but that generally it would have been appropriate for the invitations to have gone out at least three months in advance to the heads of state. In addition, he said it is not helpful that the Biden administration has not released an agenda, and they should have set some expectation for deliverables heading into the summit.
The former defense official said that although it’s the role of the hosting country to set the message for the forum, “strengthening democracy is huge.”
“If you’ve seen the way that the alignment of countries in the hemisphere have been taken lately, they are going more toward the left and in some cases troubling so,” he said citing Bolivia and Chile as examples of states following a “model not dissimilar to Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.”
De la Peña continued: “I hope that there’s something positive that comes out of the summit. The United States is still the indispensable leader in this hemisphere. And the U.S. has to project a level of confident leadership in the conduct of these summits. And there has to be a feeling that the United States has it well in control.”
Isaias Medina, one of the first Venezuelan diplomats to resign his position in June 2017 to protest the policies of dictator Nicolas Maduro, also told Fox News that the message of the summit must be “deterrence against anti-democratic rogue nations.”
Medina told Fox News: “To be unwelcome at the summit of the Americas must definitely include blackballing American oil companies [that] continue to partner with Maduro’s Narco-Kleptocracy. The US allowing Chevron to circumvent sanctions funds to a tyrannical gas lighting dictatorship is no different than giving a blank check to Putin himself to use against Ukraine because Maduro and Putin have joint accounts sucking the country dry.”
“The message in the Summit of the Americas should be a clear unwavering deterrence against anti-democratic rogue nations and their proxy militias, not only in words but in deeds, as Venezuela ramps up its oil development with help from Chevron — Hezbollah, ELN, and FARC are celebrating as an invisible guest in the Summit for prompting funds from Maduro’s criminal syndicate to harvest terrorist organizations three hours from Miami. Is putting money in Maduro’s pocket in the best interest of the Americas?” continued Medina, who also worked as a minister counselor at the Venezuelan mission to the United Nations in New York.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked this week during the weekly press briefing about the final invite list and agenda for the summit to which she responded that the administration is “still giving our partners time to decide.”
She continued: “As you see from press reports, there have been quite a few heads of states who have confirmed via their own announcement. But again, you know, I always bring this back because what’s really important about next week is that the people from around the region are gathering together to address the core challenges facing the people of the hemisphere. Right. Including economic prosperity, climate change, migration crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. So there is an array of issues for the region that we would that we are going to discuss. These are priorities. These are incredibly important. And that’s what you’re going to see for next week. And others will confirm if they’re attending. We’re not going to do that until we have a final list and give our partners opportunities to decide.”
The press secretary also reportedly said Wednesday when asked about the reason why the White House hadn’t confirmed details less than a week before the start of the summit: “I think if you’ve been following this administration for the past year and a half, one week is not the eleventh hour when it comes to how things move. And so that is a lifetime away for us as a White House.”
Fox News also asked the State Department this week about the Biden administration possibly inviting a lower-level representative from Cuba and whether there is a plan in place to prevent a boycott by Mexico.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price responded that the administration is “confident” that it will have robust attendance from Latin American countries and the private sector at the forum.
Price said: “We have been in close contact with many of our partners throughout the region. Again, without reading out those discussions. We are confident that the summit will represent — the countries will be representative of the opportunities and the challenges that we face together as partners in Americas.”
Fox News’ Nicholas Kalman contributed to this report.