Biden’s poor Latin American relations spells disaster for US border security

This week’s Summit of the Americas should be an opportunity for the US government to get together with its neighbors to find effective solutions to immigration and security challenges. Instead, even the leftist Salvadoran outlet El Faro notes the meeting is shaping up to be another foreign-policy and domestic catastrophe for the Biden team.

Four of the Latin American countries responsible for 90% of immigration flow into the United States — Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala — are not sending their heads of state, a slap in the administration’s face. This also means the open-border migration crisis that has led to recent security predicaments — such as a Hezbollah cell member’s attempt to smuggle in ISIS terrorists to assassinate former President George W. Bush — will remain unaddressed.

President Joe Biden has no one but himself to blame for the distinct possibility one of the signature events for US “near abroad” policy will flop. This is due to a mixture of mismanagement and destructive ideology. Honduras and Mexico are following the Cuba-Venezuela-Nicaragua alliance, which would much rather deal with Iran, China and Russia. Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua are boycotting the summit — and then Biden excluded them — despite Biden’s recent efforts to normalize business and tourist relations with Cuba and lift energy sanctions from the Maduro regime.

El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele and Guatemala’s President Alejandro Giammattei are staying away thanks to the Biden’s administration’s persecution of their respective governments.

Latin American migrants take part in a caravan towards the border with the United States, in Huehuetan, Chiapas state, Mexico, on June 7, 2022.
President Joe Biden’s lenient border policies are causing security issues in Latin American countries.
ISAAC GUZMAN/AFP via Getty Images

El Salvador’s cooperation was essential in pursuing policies that would cut down on illegal migration from that country to America. Bukele had worked closely with the Trump administration on securing the borders from the brutal MS-13 gang, which is now one of the many violent organizations in El Salvador facing arrests, trials and likely imprisonment for their crimes. Guatemala, too, proved a crucial partner on domestic and foreign security concerns.

But as soon as Biden took office, he placed government officials in these countries on the US corruption list and started campaigns against their heads of state, particularly Bukele, accusing him of human-rights abuses and secret negotiations with MS-13 and other gangs.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who had no prior experience on immigration or Central America, was supposed to manage the economic policy that would benefit US-Northern Triangle relations by helping attract investors to those countries. The idea was that increased economic opportunities would inspire the poor in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala to stay home rather than flee to America. Instead, Team Biden diverted humanitarian aid from El Salvador’s government to leftist human-rights nongovernmental organizations and proceeded to hound Bukele for taking measures to crack down on criminals — many of whom ended up roaming US streets.

El Salvador President Nayib Bukele
The Trump administration had worked with El Salvador President Nayib Bukele on stopping the dangerous MS-13 gang.
REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

Harris’ June 2021 trip to Guatemala was ultimately an embarrassment; protesters mocked the veep, holding signs telling her, “Go home.” Her Honduras visit was superficial and accomplished little. The new president’s husband there had been ousted from office for trying to change the constitution and was rescued by Cuba and Venezuela.

Guatemala’s Giammattei was once a preferred partner for Biden, but the relationship deteriorated after Biden attempted to interfere with the country’s judiciary. Indeed, Biden has attacked and harassed the few remaining pro-Western countries in Latin America. He’s consistently tried to delegitimize Bukele, who has an 87% approval rating and has coordinated all of his decisions with the legislature, as a “dictator” while appeasing the Maduro regime and its counterparts in Cuba and Nicaragua.

Finally, Biden almost lost Argentina and Brazil, two of the leading economic powers in Latin America, and had to beg them to attend by promising bilateral meetings in the United States, a position that does nothing for America’s image abroad.

As a result of mismanaging relationships with key allies in Latin America, Biden is facing a mounting border crisis and an overall US loss of influence in the neighborhood — when US foreign policy is already seen as weak and inviting to its key adversaries and agents of instability.

Biden can learn from these disastrous confrontations that left small, friendly countries preferring not to deal with America at all rather than face humiliation, punishment and harassment. He needs to rebuild cooperation and coordinate a resolution to the security problem before encroaching crime, terrorism and the spillover from Venezuela’s regional hegemony become irreversible.

Irina Tsukerman is a human rights lawyer and a geopolitical and security analyst, the CEO of Scarab Rising, a media and security consultancy, and the editor-in-chief of The Washington Outsider.

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