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Biden aimed to band with South America but some countries were left out of the summit

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Biden urged leaders of the Western Hemisphere to defend democracy this week at the Summit of the Americas. Some leaders were mad - he left out Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua from the gathering. The controversy overshadowed what he hoped to highlight a signature agreement to confront the migration crisis. NPR's Franco Ordoñez has the story.

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UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in non-English language).

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: A splashy opening ceremony - President Biden welcomed leaders of the hemisphere to Los Angeles. It was a chance to unveil his vision for the region.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: At this summit, we have an opportunity for us to come together around some bold ideas, ambitious actions, and to demonstrate to our people the incredible power of democracies deliver concrete benefits and make life better for everyone - everyone.

ORDOÑEZ: But he left out some authoritarian leaders. The presidents of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador skipped in protest. And those who were there didn't let Biden off the hook.

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PRIME MINISTER JOHNNY BRICENO: At this most critical juncture when the future of our hemisphere is at stake, we stand divided.

ORDOÑEZ: That's the prime minister of Belize, Johnny Briceno, scolding Biden, who was sitting on stage nearby.

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BRICENO: And that is why the Summit of the Americas should have been inclusive. Geography, not politics, defines the Americas.

ORDOÑEZ: Argentina's president, Alberto Fernandez, piled on.

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PRESIDENT ALBERTO FERNANDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

ORDOÑEZ: He says he wished the summit was different, saying the silence of those who are absent is calling to us. Then it was Biden's turn.

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BIDEN: I think we're off to a strong start.

ORDOÑEZ: He said there were important ideas raised, despite the disagreements over who was there.

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BIDEN: On the substantive matters what I heard was almost unity - uniformity.

ORDOÑEZ: On the substance, 20 of the countries agreed on a series of pledges to address migration.

JASON MARCZAK: The key to all of this is to follow up.

ORDOÑEZ: Jason Marczak of the Atlantic Council said there is always drama at these summits. What matters is the agreements on the economic and migration proposals.

MARCZAK: There definitely is more substance than what was expected.

ORDOÑEZ: But he didn't go so far as calling it a successful summit. He said that will be determined months later if leaders uphold their promises.

Franco Ordoñez, NPR News, Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.