The inaugural meeting of the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity (APEP) in Washington faced a hail of criticism towards President Joe Biden from inside his own Democratic Party and officials from Latin America who came away doubting the U.S. commitment to the region.
The joint declaration signed on Friday issued by the White House includes a “collective commitment” to “rule of law”, “universal human rights”, “labor rights” and “fundamental freedoms in the Americas.”
Among those who signed was President Luis Abinader of the Dominican Republic, only days after the U.S. State Department issued a report warning of “unlawful or arbitrary killings by government security forces; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by police and other government agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; arbitrary interference with privacy” and “serious government corruption.”
Worse yet, Abinader was greeted for a photo at the White House by President Biden, who failed to challenge Abinader on the breakdown of the rule of law and due process leading to a humanitarian crisis in the DR’s overcrowded prisons, where 70% of those behind bars are under “preventive detention” orders, never see the inside of a courtroom, and face abhorrent conditions in violation of the so-called “shared values” expressed in the APEP declaration.
Biden also failed to condemn the outrageous and brutal labor conditions for workers in the DR today. A recent investigation found that the use of forced labor-type practices in the country were widespread, particularly against Haitian migrants, and equated these practices to a form of “modern-day slavery.” The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has also placed a Withhold Release Order (WRO) on certain products produced with forced labor emanating from the DR.
The storm of dissatisfaction and criticism for APEP ranged from “moving the goal posts” of the summit that earned criticism from Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), a top Biden supporter, as well as one analyst who accused the Biden Administration of using the summit to “check the box … that they remember Latin America exists, to pretend to have a plan.”
But the whitewashing of Abinader’s horrendous human rights record was among the most glaring missteps of a summit that has clearly failed to make meaningful progress in areas highlighted by the Joint Declaration.