Much has been said about the failure of the Summit of the Americas. It was the worst organized meeting of presidents since Bill Clinton called on his counterparts from all over the hemisphere in 1994 to agree on initiatives on economic integration and democracy promotion. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a more subdued or mediocre Summit of the Americas than the one we have seen over the past 28 years. But – somehow – Biden and his team did. And, to be fair, they did have help from myopic Latin American leaders. The summit was a shameful display of hypocrisy, lies, the political dead body, and the endless middle bureaucracy. The opportunity to support the fractured democracies in the region or launch ambitious initiatives to bolster their weakened economies has been missed.
Instead, the summit consumed up negotiations over the guest list. The White House has rightly decided not to invite governments that openly imprison and torture those who oppose their own. However, the decision was not well received by some, including Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who said he would not go if Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela were excluded. The fact that current governments in those countries brutally exclude, imprison and, in some cases, torture and kill dissidents, is seemingly a trivial detail for the Mexican president. Unfortunately, other countries shared Mexico’s concerns.
It is a shame that many Latin American countries are unable to break the bad ideas that perpetuate poverty, inequality and corruption. Even worse, today in Latin America executioners are not only tolerated, but also celebrated.
An example of this tendency to tolerate and appease human rights abusers is the recent visit to China by Michelle Bachelet, twice President of Chile and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights since 2018. The former president runs the body whose sole official purpose is to protect human rights worldwide .
How should democracies relate to authoritarian regimes that systematically violate the human rights of their citizens?
Last month, Bachelet visited China and met several Chinese leaders, including Xi Jinping, the supreme leader, whom she spoke to via video link. This is at a time when Beijing tightly controls W Severe repression of the Uyghur Muslim minority. Satellite images, as well as official documents and victim testimonies, have led many governments, NGOs, and international organizations to condemn the Chinese regime. They accuse China of mass arrests, forced sterilization, forced labour, family separation and torture of Uyghurs, as well as carrying out political indoctrination campaigns and banning their religious and cultural practices.
When Commissioner Bachelet’s trip was made public, activists and governments warned that the visit would be manipulated by the Chinese government to show the world a false version of the Uyghur situation. The US State Department called Bachelet’s trip a “mistake” that Beijing would use for propaganda purposes.
And that’s exactly what happened. And Chinese media widely published pictures of the Chilean leader hitting his elbows with Foreign Minister Wang Yi. The ministry praised the visit, calling it an “opportunity to observe and experience real Xinjiang,” the region where the majority of Uyghurs live. Deputy Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu explained that “some Western countries, with ulterior motives, made great efforts to disrupt and undermine the High Commissioner’s visit, and their plots did not work.”
The US Secretary of State did not see it that way. Anthony Blinken expressed concern over China’s efforts to restrict and manipulate the High Commissioner’s visit. According to him, Bachelet was unable to reach the people who were forced to move to other regions of the country, as a result of which they were separated from their families. In addition, Blinken said, Chinese authorities have warned residents of Xinjiang not to “make a public complaint or criticize the conditions in which they live.” He also regretted that Commissioner Bachelet did not have more information on the fate of hundreds of disappeared Uyghurs.
The Summit of the Americas and the visit of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to China are two very different events. But both are defined by one of the toughest international dilemmas of our time: How should democracies relate to authoritarian regimes that systematically violate the human rights of their citizens?
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