CHICAGO, Illinois — Since 1994, governments across the Western Hemisphere have met every few years at the Summit of the Americas, an event aimed at fostering diplomacy and cooperation. The United States hosted the ninth summit in its nearly three-decade history this summer between June 6 and June 10, 2022. A lot has changed since 2018 when the last summit took place in Lima, Peru. Most notably the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have increased poverty across the region, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean, exacerbating the other common issues the region faces.
Common Issues Facing The Americas
The Western Hemisphere is a broad region compromising some of the world’s wealthiest countries, such as the United States, as well as some of its poorest, such as Haiti. While there are vast differences between many of the countries that attended the Summit of the Americas, their fates are entangled on a number of fronts.
One of the top issues that the Western Hemisphere collectively faces is the risks from diseases and gaps in health care systems. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates this problem most acutely and the new variants and sub-variants cropping up, but the common health risks do not stop there.
Due to the high level of trade and travel within the region, the risk of a disease in one area affecting another remains high. For instance, a number of mosquito-borne illnesses, such as Zika and Chikungunya, that previously held a low profile in the Western Hemisphere have caused large outbreaks in the past decade.
Though the severity and size of outbreaks are not uniform, new illnesses continue to be a present threat to the general welfare.
Migration is another issue that all these countries face. Some countries are dealing with the loss of citizens emigrating, while others are dealing with the obligation to take on their new residents. Two trends dominate migration within the hemisphere. The first entails people departing from Central American nations and heading to the U.S. southern border.
The second involves Venezuelans leaving their country with destinations throughout Latin America as well as the United State.
Finally, with over 100 bilateral and multilateral trade deals between nations in the region, the Western Hemisphere is highly integrated economically. Countries across the region have faced inflationary pressures from tight supply chains as well as shortages of food and energy from the war in Ukraine. Growth has also slowed and is projected to continue to do so over the next couple of years. These pressures have the potential to lead to social unrest if not handled well.
Politics and Policies
The Summit of the Americas has not always united the hemisphere completely. Often arguments, small or large, lead to various leaders or governments boycotting the event and weakening the ability to move cohesively. This year was no different. The Biden administration chose to not invite the governments of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela prompting a number of leaders to send lower-level delegates and a couple to boycott, Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports.
Despite the squabbles, a number of agreements and pledges from the Biden Administration came out of the summit. Though funding mechanisms for much of the plans still remain to be seen, if carried out, they could make an impact on poverty and the issues surrounding it.
One of the most substantive policies that came out of the Summit of the Americas was the Action Plan on Health and Resilience in the Americas which should be fully in effect by 2030. This plan will primarily address the toll that COVID-19 has taken and continues to take on the region. Some elements of it include an expansion of vaccination availability throughout the Americas, improved disease surveillance and funding for training for 500,000 health care workers as part of the Americas Health Corps.
Another program aimed at addressing common issues was the Los Angeles Declaration for Migration and Protection which contains a set of policies aimed at improving migration systems and the experience of those who are most affected by them. Some measures that this declaration calls for include the use of multilateral banks to provide greater assistance for areas with migration challenges, improving the wellbeing of migrant workers and creating more access to public and private services for migrants in their host countries.
Lastly, the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity will seek to address common economic problems that the region faces. One action will include measures to strengthen the Inter-American Development Bank in order to stimulate the economy. Diversifying supply chains and improving supply chain transparency will also play a large role in the partnership, helping to prevent future shortages.
Only time will tell what impact the policies agreed upon in early June will have on the region. Still, attempting to find common ground on health care, migration and the economy will be necessary as these issues continue to provide challenges to the Americas.
– Joey Harris
Photo: Wikimedia Commons