President Trump’s short-notice cancellation of his trip to Lima, Peru, where he was to attend the 34-country Summit of the Americas makes him the first U.S. president to skip this key regional meeting. It’s only the latest of many signs of his disdain for Hispanics, and for Latin America.
Trump supporters argue that the Syria crisis is more important than a meeting with Latin American presidents. Critics, on the other hand, say Trump is artificially escalating the Syria crisis in order to divert attention from the FBI raid into his attorney Michael Cohen’s homes and offices, which may be Trump’s biggest concern right now.
But the White House’s claim that Trump needs to say in Washington “to monitor” the situation in Syria crisis sounds like an excuse. U.S. presidents have routinely handle similar situations while traveling abroad.
Former President Obama visited Brazil in his first Latin American trip in 2011 despite the Libya crisis and, in fact, ordered Libya’s bombing while in South America. What’s more, in many cases U.S. presidents have used the stage of international summits to amplify their messages in the midst of an international crisis.
By now, if you are not convinced that Trump looks down on Latin Americans, and on Latin America, it’s because you just don’t want to accept the facts.
▪ Trump will be the first U.S. president not to attend the Summit of the Americas, which is held every three or four years since 1994. It’s the only such meeting in which the president has a chance to meet privately with all Latin American and Caribbean leaders and work to advance U.S. causes.
In this case, many hoped that Trump’s presence at the summit would help produce a strong statement against Venezuela’s dictatorship. Vice-President Mike Pence — who is to replace Trump at the summit — will surely try to do that, but the message Latin American leaders are getting is that Venezuela is not really a top priority for Trump.
▪ Trump is the first U.S. president in recent times not to have set foot on Latin America during his first year in office. Former presidents Obama and George W. Bush made their first foreign trips while in the White House to Mexico or Canada, and attended all the Summits of the Americas during their terms. Trump’s first foreign trip was to Europe.
▪ While Trump has not visited Latin America despite being geographically close to the region, Chinese president Xi Jin Ping has already made four visits to Latin America in four years.
▪ Neither Trump, nor Pence, nor former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have set foot in the Washington D.C.-based Organization of American States. Tillerson skipped an OAS foreign ministers’ meeting to address the Venezuelan crisis, despite the fact that the OAS building is only a seven-minute drive from the State Department.
▪ Trump took more than a year to nominate an appointee for the U.S. State Department’s office in charge of Latin American affairs. He recently appointed former CIA official Kimberly Breier, who has yet to be confirmed by Congress.
▪ Trump has recently referred to El Salvador and Haiti, as well as African nations, as “shithole countries,” and has falsely claimed that Mexico tops world rankings of violence.
▪ The U.S. president routinely lashes out against Latin American immigrants, accusing them of bringing crime and drugs to the United States, despite the fact that illegal immigration from Latin America has not increased during the past 10 years and that undocumented migrants have lower incarceration rates in this country than U.S. citizens.
▪ Trump threatens to withdraw from the U.S-Mexico-Canada North American Free Trade Agreement — and has already pulled out of the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership trade and investment agreement. The TPP included Mexico, Peru and Chile.
Granted, the world will not come to an end because of Trump’s failure to attend the Summit of the Americas.
But it would have been the perfect occasion from him to show the world that he’s not arrogant or racist, that he cares about America’s neighbors, that he understands that it’s in the best U.S. interest to have a prosperous Mexico and Central America, and that he is serious about working with Latin American countries toward the restoration of democracy in Venezuela.
It’s sad that Trump let this opportunity go by. Once, he has shown his contempt for the region.
Watch the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show Sundays at 8 p.m. on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera