LEILA FADEL, HOST:
The U.S. is working to smooth out tensions with Mexico. U.S. Special Adviser Chris Dodd met virtually with President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador after the Mexican leader threatened to skip this year's Summit of the Americas if Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua are excluded from attending. It's a concerning sign of a new chapter in U.S. relations with Latin America, which has been electing more leaders who are not as interested in having a close relationship with the United States. Here to talk about all of this is NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Hi, Franco.
FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hey, Leila.
FADEL: So, Franco, explain this controversy to us.
ORDOÑEZ: You know, the Biden administration has indicated that the United States will only invite democratically elected leaders to this summit, which is taking place in Los Angeles early next month. So the leftist presidents of Mexico and Bolivia announced that they would skip if leaders of the three authoritarian governments, as you mentioned - Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua - are not invited. AMLO, as he is known, has been critical of the U.S. in the past. But that relationship between the U.S. and Mexico is really significant. So it's another bold stance for him to take. And I'll just note that the right-wing president of Brazil, another regional power, is also not expected to attend but for different reasons.
FADEL: So how is the U.S. responding?
ORDOÑEZ: Well, first, they're making it clear that invites have not gone out, and decisions have yet to be finalized. But that hasn't stopped them from revving up the diplomatic engine. There were discussions yesterday with the U.S. special adviser - that's former Senator Chris Dodd - and those talks will continue. And before that, the U.S. made two major announcements that some see as an effort to try to meet Lopez Obrador and other leaders halfway.
On Monday, the Biden administration announced plans to make it easier for families to send money and visit relatives in Cuba - you know, reversing a Trump-era move. And on Tuesday, the administration announced it was easing some oil sanctions on Venezuela. Both of those things are things that the governments were seeking.
FADEL: Now, one of the arguments being made is that the summit should be more inclusive. Why not use this forum as an opportunity to confront the autocratic leaders and tackle these issues head on?
ORDOÑEZ: You know, it's a really compelling argument that many are making. And clearly, there is engagement that we see with those announcements on Cuba and Venezuela. But Mark Feierstein, who recently left the Biden administration as a senior adviser, tells me there's a big difference between that kind of engagement and standing next to the autocratic leaders for a widely scrutinized photo at a forum that promotes democracy.
MARK FEIERSTEIN: You can't have in that picture someone like Nicolas Maduro, who's committed crimes against humanity; someone like Daniel Ortega, who's imposed a dictatorship and jailed all the political opponents; and someone like Diaz-Canel of Cuba. They just don't fit there. They don't belong in that picture.
ORDOÑEZ: You know, he says that it's a very different dynamic.
FADEL: Are there political implications to the administration's decision to engage with these countries, particularly with voters in Florida?
ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. Some Democrats actually see this as a sign that the party is giving up on winning Florida, a state former President Obama won twice. Fernand Amandi, a Democratic pollster, says Florida is the one state where U.S. policy toward Venezuela and Cuba has a direct and political impact.
FERNAND AMANDI: These decisions, taken outside of the Florida political context, may actually represent where the administration wants to go from a policy perspective. However, there is always political backlash to these types of decisions in Florida. And they are certainly being experienced now.
ORDOÑEZ: Now, Venezuelan American and Cuban American voters have proven to be decisive in Florida, as Amandi notes.
ORDOÑEZ: So there is a lot at stake. But I'll just note that the invitations still haven't gone out. So there is still time for things to change, but not much. The summit starts the week of June 6.
FADEL: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Thank you, Franco.
ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.
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