A senior Democratic senator on Thursday accused the president of Mexico of trying to “blackmail” President Joe Biden into inviting various autocratic countries to the Ninth Summit of the Americas.
Senator Bob Menéndez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, accused Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of siding with “dictators and despots” after he decided to skip the summit because Biden refused to invite Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
“I think that President López Obrador basically tried to blackmail President Biden into insisting that countries that are not democratic, countries like Venezuela, Cuba, Daniel Ortega’s Nicaragua, that are dictators and despots, should have been invited to the summit,” Menendez said. DN.J., he said during an interview on MSNBC on Thursday.
Biden declined to include all three countries because “we don’t think dictators should be invited,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday. The summit is currently taking place in Los Angeles, California.
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As a result, several leaders in the region, including López Obrador, decided to boycott the high-level meeting.
During a press conference on Wednesday, López Obrador criticized Menéndez, as well as Republican senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, for US policies toward Cuba. All three senators are of Cuban descent and support a hard-line US policy toward the communist island, where political dissent is not tolerated.
López Obrador, who mentioned Menéndez by name, accused the senators of having resentment and “hatred” towards Cuba.
His comments and Menendez’s retort sparked an unusually bitter exchange between a foreign leader and a US senator at a time when relations between the United States and Mexico are under strain.
Rubio, R-Fla., also took a jab the Mexican president on Twitter this week, calling him “an apologist for a tyranny in Cuba, a murderous dictator in Nicaragua and a drug trafficker in Venezuela.”
López Obrador’s decision to skip the summit was a huge snub for Biden, as the two countries must work together on important policy issues, such as trade and migration.
Cuba has experienced economic turmoil over the past year, resulting in widespread protests on the island last July. Cuban security forces cracked down on protesters with tear gas, beatings and arrests, according to the US State Department.
Former President Donald Trump intensified sanctions against Cuba, including the cancellation of permits to send remittances and the punishment of oil tankers bound for the island. These measures and the pandemic contributed to an economic crisis in Cuba, where people suffer from shortages of basic goods, power cuts and rationing.
The Biden administration has sought to downplay concerns that the US-Mexico alliance has soured. Jean-Pierre said Monday that López Obrador informed Biden of his decision not to attend the summit before making the announcement public Monday.
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López Obrador and Biden will meet in July.
Biden, during his opening speech at the summit on Wednesday, highlighted the importance of democracy in the Western Hemisphere.
“Democracy is a hallmark of our region,” he said. “As we come together again today, at a time when democracy is under attack around the world, let us come together again and renew our conviction that democracy is not only the defining characteristic of American Stories, but the essential ingredient for the future of the United States. Joined”.
Contact Rebecca Morin on Twitter @RebeccaMorin_