By Matt Spetalnick
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration has not invited the governments of Venezuela and Nicaragua to the U.S.-hosted Summit of the Americas next month, a State Department official said on Thursday, amid the threat of an embarrassing boycott by some regional leaders.
Kevin O’Reilly, the U.S. summit coordinator, said it would be up to the White House to determine whether to invite Cuba to the June 6-10 meeting in Los Angeles but that Cuban civil society activists had been asked to attend.
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said on Twitter on Wednesday that “under no circumstances” would he go to the summit, accusing Washington of applying “brutal pressure” to ensure that it would not be inclusive.
Biden administration officials have scrambled to avoid a boycott threatened by some leaders, including Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, if Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua are excluded.
Lopez Obrador said on Thursday he would probably decide on Friday whether he will attend.
Possible snubs have raised the risk of unraveling a summit that U.S. President Joe Biden’s aides hoped would be a chance to reassert the United States’ influence in a region it is often accused of neglecting.
Seeking a way to mollify Lopez Obrador, Washington is considering inviting a lower-level Cuban representative as an observer, according to people familiar with the matter.
Asked by a Senate subcommittee whether the United States had invited anyone from the Cuban government, O’Reilly said: “That will be a decision for the White House.”
A senior State Department official said in April that Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua were unlikely to be allowed to attend.
Asked whether those countries – Washington’s main ideological rivals in the region – would be invited, White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said “we’re still considering additional invites.”
Pressed about whether any representative of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government was being invited, O’Reilly said: “Absolutely not. We don’t recognize them as a sovereign government.”
The United States and a number of other countries have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful president and shunned Maduro, a Socialist, after accusing him of rigging his 2018 re-election.
O’Reilly said it would be a “White House call” whether to invite Guaido in Maduro’s place.
Asked whether Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega had been invited, O’Reilly answered with a terse “No.” Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla who won a fourth term in November after jailing rivals, said last week he was “not interested” in attending.
(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Richard Pullin)