Biden kicks off Summit of Americas with call for unity

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President Biden called for Western Hemisphere nations to unite around shared principles of democracy Wednesday as he kicked off a summit marred by high-profile boycotts after the administration excluded three nations because they are led by authoritarians.

Mr. Biden said the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles comes “at a moment where we need more cooperation, common purpose and transformative ideas that have never been in greater need than today.”

“As we meet again today, in a moment when democracy is under assault around the world, let us unite again and renew our conviction that democracy is not only the defining feature of American histories but the essential ingredient to Americans’ futures,” he said.

“At this summit, we have an opportunity for us to come together around some bold ideas, ambitious actions and to demonstrate to our people the incredible power of democracies to deliver concrete benefits and make life better for everyone,” he said.

The White House ban on Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba from this year’s summit in a stand against authoritarianism prompted a backlash from other participants and cast a shadow on the summit meant to showcase U.S. leadership in the Western Hemisphere.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and key Central American leaders declined to attend the summit over the exclusion of the three countries, putting the White House on defense in the lead-up to the event.

The pushback continued into Wednesday’s kickoff ceremony where Mr. Biden was heckled almost immediately by two people in the audience as he began his speech.

Unfazed, Mr. Biden said there were no differences that could not be overcome by the nations in attendance.

“Folks, to state the obvious, our region is large and diverse,” he said. “We don’t always agree on everything. But because we’re democracies, we work through our disagreements with mutual respect and dialogue.”

The president also began previewing key initiatives the White House is set to release over the three-day summit.

One of those initiatives, known as the “Los Angeles Declaration,” is aimed at addressing the flood of migration throughout the region, which Mr. Biden blamed on desperation caused by the pandemic and inflation that he blames on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Mr. Biden has come under increased political pressure at home to stem the tide of migrants crossing the southwest border, which his political opponents and many of the migrants say result from lax enforcement and a reversal of key border-control policies under the Trump administration.

“Too many people are feeling there’s no option available to them to provide for themselves and their families,” Mr. Biden said. “These challenges affect all of us. All of our nations have a responsibility to step up and ease the pressure people are feeling today.”

The Los Angeles Declaration is billed as a call to action meant to guide countries on hosting people who are fleeing violence and searching for economic stability.

The administration is also expected to unveil a $300 million food security financing initiative, a climate partnership with Caribbean countries, and a program to train 500,000 health-care workers throughout the Americas over the next five years.

“Let us leave here with a renewed purpose and a renewed partnership,” Mr. Biden said. “And tomorrow, let’s get to work building a future this region deserves.”

This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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