By Carlos Meneses
Los Angeles, Jun 6 (EFE).- The 9th Summit of the Americas kicked off on Monday in Los Angeles by giving a voice to civil society, with various groups denouncing the democratic and environmental setbacks suffered within the region on the first day of the five-day conference from which the hosting United States excluded Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua from participating.
The opening of the 9th Civil Society Forum was the initial event in the hemispheric meeting, which will run until Friday and which got under way despite the debate over the list of invited participants, while some regional leaders opted not to attend in person in protest over the exclusions.
The Joe Biden administration confirmed early Monday morning what had been anticipated in recent days, namely that Washington barred the Cuban, Venezuelan and Nicaraguan governments from attending the conference due to questions and concerns about democracy and human rights violations in those nations.
The US State Department’s top official for Latin America, Brian Nichols, explained the decision to reporters, a decision to which several governments in the hemisphere have reacted to with disgust.
In Venezuela, the “lack of freedom” and the “political prisoners” situation runs counter to the fundamental documents of the Summit of the Americas, Nichols said before the Civil Society Forum got under way.
He said that Washington understands that there may be other opinions and the US government spent considerable time thinking about how to move forward on this matter, but in the end the administration decided to exclude the three governments, adding that the US is preparing a new round of sanctions against the Nicaraguan regime of Daniel Ortega.
Almost simultaneously, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who had already said he would not attend the summit in person if there were any exclusions, opted not to show up, and Bolivian President Luis Arce decided not to attend either.
In addition, Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei confirmed on Monday that he, too, would not attend ostensibly due to agenda problems, while his Uruguayan counterpart, Luis Lacalle Pou, also will not be there after reportedly testing positive for Covid-19.
In Los Angeles, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, aligned himself with the stance of the US in inaugurating the Civil Society Forum, which will be held on Monday and Tuesday in a Los Angeles hotel amid strict security measures.
The ninth summit reflects the US commitment to renew the hemispheric alliance to deal with the region’s economic recovery after the coronavirus pandemic, to work jointly to strengthen responses to potential health emergencies and to firmly defend democracy, he said.
In that regard, the sessions held on Monday focused in particular on defending democracy in the hemisphere and also on protecting the environment.
“The human rights situation is very serious because there are too many violations in important countries, like Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua,” Venezuela’s Oscar Lopez, the project director for the Panamerican and Caribbean Union for Human Rights (Pacuhr), told EFE.
He also emphasized that excluding the three nations from the summit demonstrates “the rejection of societies that believe in democracy, freedoms and in the quality of well-being of their citizens.”
The importance of preserving the environment was also a key issue discussed on the summit’s first day at a time when alarms are sounding regarding the growing threats facing ecosystems that are key for the global climate – like the Amazon basin – and the indigenous peoples who inhabit them.
On Monday, the world learned of the disappearance in a remote part of Brazil’s Amazon region of British journalist Dom Phillips, working for The Guardian, and indigenous leader Bruno Araujo Pereira, who had been threatened several days ago by alleged invaders of indigenous lands.
Other complaints about the devastation and spiral of violence currently gripping the Amazon region were made in Los Angeles on Monday.
Raquel Nemo Andy Guiquita, a member of the Waorani tribe and a spokesperson for Confeniae, an entity made up of 22 organizations of different Ecuadorian indigenous peoples, told EFE that the world’s largest tropical rainforest is “under threat” from laws and decrees made by national governments to economically develop those lands.
“We’re at this summit to raise our voices and so that a special agenda may be created for Amazonia because currently they are building (oil) platforms and highways inside our territories,” she said.
“It’s time for world leaders to act to save Amazonia,” said Guiquita, who also said she traveled to Los Angeles to ask the state of California to stop buying “crude coming directly” from tribal lands.