Should Canada have supported Mexico and other nations by also boycotting the Summit of the Americas?
The most remarkable thing that can be said about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s attendance at the Summit of the Americas is that at least he showed up.
Not everyone did. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador boycotted the week-long meeting, as did the leaders of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
The four dissident leaders were protesting Washington’s decision to exclude Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela from the summit on the grounds that they are not democratic enough.
US President Joe Biden had organized the South American summit as an ideological counterforce to China in the region. But he found that many countries were more wary of America than of China.
The Mexican president accused Biden of playing “old-fashioned politics, of interventionism, of a lack of respect for nations and their peoples.” That’s why Trudeau did Biden a favor simply by showing up.
Canada didn’t have to play that way. Trudeau could have supported Mexico by also boycotting the summit. In fact, such a decision might have served Canadian interests better. This would have demonstrated that Canada remains an independent actor in the region, despite its close ties with the United States.
This independence is not always obvious. Canada has never taken the harsh, anti-Communist line of the United States toward Cuba. But he has been at the forefront of opposition to Nicolás Maduro, Washington’s pet peeve in Venezuela. Indeed, Canada does not even recognize Maduro as the legitimate president of Venezuela, a position that puts it at odds with important Latin American countries, notably Mexico.
In the end, Canada will always be on the side of the United States. Everyone understands that. But to go to the end, Canada has a margin of maneuver which it can use if it wants.
So it was this week. Canada had the opportunity to strike an independent pose, to demonstrate that it is not always an American tool, to stand in solidarity – even briefly – with the anti-imperialists of South and Central America .
Canada could have objected to the exclusion of Cuba. The Canadian government could have remembered that unanimity is not always necessary to do something. The UN is an example. The Commonwealth is another. The same goes for minority government. Canada could even have opposed it while still attending the summit.
But Canada refused to seize this opportunity. Instead, he played his usual role. He supported the Americans. It was polite. He didn’t even try to protest the exclusion of Cuba, a nation with which Canada has long had friendly relations.
And for that loyalty, Canada will be rewarded — a little. We were granted a meeting with Gavin Newsom, the governor of California. We will be granted a meeting with Biden.
We will be praised for our help, even at a summit that probably won’t produce much.
And that’s fine, as long as we stay clear about what we’re giving up to earn those kudos. We renounce our ability to forge any kind of serious and independent foreign policy, even when such a policy does not cost us dearly.