By Kate Bennett, CNN
First lady Jill Biden said last month as she wrapped a six-day trip to Latin America that she was not concerned about the threat of boycott from certain countries at the upcoming Summit of the Americas.
“I’m not worried. I think that they’ll come,” Biden said, a prediction that this week has turned out not to be the case.
As the summit kicks off Wednesday evening in Los Angeles, Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, as well as the leaders of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, are not in attendance, protesting President Joe Biden’s decision not to include Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua at the talks. The disruptive nature of the snubs from several US allies has caused more headaches for the administration, obscuring the larger purpose of the summit, which the United States has not hosted since its inception in 1994.
However, for the first lady, the show must go on.
Despite the swirl of controversy as to whether a boycotted summit is a bust before it even begins, Jill Biden will host at at least two solo events for a dozen or so spouses of the confirmed 23 heads of state who are attending the three-day meet-up of Western Hemisphere leaders. The events have been in the works for the last several weeks, in coordination with the East Wing, according to a White House official.
Biden’s spousal program will showcase cultural elements of Los Angeles, and in the process, the first lady will be continuing a theme she began on her diplomatic visits last month to Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica: it is better to be on the right side of the US than the wrong side.
In San José, Costa Rica, before heading back to Washington, and following meetings with the President of that country, Biden felt certain her time as emissary — in a region of the world ripe with political strife and economic uncertainty — served its purpose.
“All of the countries I’ve visited said that they would be [at the Summit of the Americas. I’m looking forward to it,” she said at the time.
Biden’s confidence, even as calls for boycotts of the summit grew louder, came on the heels of her remarks in each country’s capital city centered on the benefits of a healthy partnership with the US. Unlike Vice President Kamala Harris’ message of “do not come [to the United States],” which she bluntly communicated during her visit last June to Mexico and Guatemala, Biden’s tone was closer to “stay where you are and reap the benefits of a US relationship.” At each stop, Biden backed her message with announcements of funding or aid, and pledges of support from America.
“Alone, you can only do so much,” Biden said, during a speech attended by President Guillermo Lasso at the presidential palace. Lasso and his wife will be at the summit.
“The first lady will be hosting a program for the spouses attending the summit to gather as a group and get to know one another,” Biden’s press secretary Michael LaRosa tells CNN.
On Thursday, Biden makes her own diplomatic in-roads, hosting a brunch, which LaRosa notes will be “near the ocean.” It is common for the first lady or leader-spouse of the host country for global summits to organize, plan and execute a number of events to keep the other halves of world leaders occupied, while their spouses hash out complex issues that will undoubtedly arise at this particular gathering.
That evening, Biden joins the President at the Getty Villa, a museum with views of the Pacific Ocean, for a welcome party and dinner for the leaders and their spouses.
On Friday, Biden’s main event — a lunch at the Disney Concert Hall — will take place with entertainment featuring the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles and a performance by the Torres-Martinez Cahuilla Bird Singers, a Native American-inspired group that tells stories of indigenous people via rhythmic song and gourd rattles.
Lunch will be prepared by 10 female chefs and restaurateurs from the Los Angeles area, part of the “Re: Her” program, a national, non-profit platform that created to help women entrepreneurs in the food and drink space. The first lady will make remarks to the assembled spouses during the luncheon, focused, says LaRosa, on the “interconnectedness of our world, especially the Americas.”
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