The Summit of the Americas, the highest level multilateral forum on the Americas, was held recently in Los Angeles.
The Summit was marked by the adoption of a declaration on “migration and protection”, proposed by the US government and signed by the governments of 20 countries.
What is this statement about? Why did the US government propose it and why did some Latin American governments support it? Can we say that this is a “migratory pact” for the Americas?
The 9th Summit of the Americas was hosted by the US government, which also proposed the main topics to be addressed at the meeting. Human mobility was high on the agenda, likely due to US domestic policy concerns.
There is currently a political campaign in the US for the midterm elections, which will take place in early November, and the Biden administration wanted to send a strong message and image of leadership to its national electorate on this sensitive topic.
But this is not something new. The United States has historically presented proposals for Pan-American norms and policies as a way of projecting its power and interests to the rest of the region.
Latin America often resists and rejects these proposals, as resistance to the domination of the strongest is a deeply rooted preference in the region.
Along these lines, on this occasion many representatives did not attend and many others openly criticized the US government for not inviting Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela to the meeting.
The Summit was controversial even before its inception. The Biden administration did not invite the governments of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela due to “concern about the lack of democracy and respect for human rights” in these countries, thus drawing an ideological and dividing line in one of the most relevant multilateral spaces for dialogue and cooperation in the hemisphere.
However, at the same time, it invited countries such as Haiti, where there are significant problems with the legitimacy of electoral processes, and Colombia, where serious human rights violations are taking place.
These contradictions have raised concern about the Biden administration’s double standard for Latin America.
The absence of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, three of the main countries of origin of migration in the region, also represents an important limitation for any multilateral hemispheric agreement on the subject.
Failure to include the voices and perspectives of the region’s main countries of origin diminishes the legitimacy of any agreement on migration matters and at the same time exacerbates the enormous asymmetries that characterize inter-American international relations.
Similar to the Global Compacts on Migration and Refuge, the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection is a non-binding agreement in which signatory States adopt certain action points under the principles of “safe, orderly, humane and regular migration” and “respecting the sovereignty of States”.
“Safe, orderly and regular” migration are principles that have been adopted and promoted by the Global Compacts, but this Declaration adds the “human” aspect, which likely comes from Vice President Kamala Harris’ plan for “humane” border management.
The Los Angeles Declaration has four main pillars: financial assistance to communities of destination, origin, transit and return, promotion of regular routes for migration and international protection, promotion of “humane management of migration” and a “coordinated emergency response”. “.
It includes a strong emphasis on information exchange in the areas of security and irregular migration.
This emphasis on security and irregular migration stems from the US interest in adopting an agreement at the hemispheric level with the objective of containing migratory flows towards the North, strengthening border controls, sharing information for security purposes, and at the same time, promote humanitarian rhetoric.
This rhetoric is likely intended to bring the norm in line with the Latin American tradition of liberal and progressive migration governance and to reduce Latin American resistance and opposition to US restrictive and securitizing policies.
The pillars of assistance to countries of origin and destination were included at the request of Colombia and Panama.
The US government has already committed to providing $314 million in humanitarian and development assistance under this agreement. This will likely increase cooperation between some Latin American countries and the US in areas of interest to the funding country.
In summary, answering the questions at the beginning of this article, the Los Angeles Declaration is a legally non-binding agreement that defines four main lines of action in the field of migration and refuge.
The United States proposed it primarily to respond to domestic political concerns at an election time, but such proposals have long-term historical roots.
US interests were focused on containment and security, and Latin American countries supported it because the Declaration included some of their demands for international funding and support for home and host nations, and also probably because the more security and restrictive measures, often resisted by Latin American governments, were diluted under “human” rhetoric.
The fact that it does not include the preferences of the main countries of origin undermines the legitimacy of the final document.
Consequently, the Declaration does not constitute a comprehensive migration pact for the Americas. It is a broad and flexible international agreement that, like the Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees, consists of political commitments and lines of action whose implementation will ultimately depend on the priorities of each country.
The negotiation of the Los Angeles Declaration offers us an illustrative example of the broader dynamics that dominate global and regional migration governance, including powerful recipient countries that try to advance their containment agenda and the various adaptive, emulation and resistance strategies that use the smaller and medium-sized countries to have their preferences included in regional and global norms and standards.
Now that this agreement has been signed, more complex power dynamics are likely to emerge during its implementation. What preferences will be followed?