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Miami's not hosting the Americas summit? It's not really the Americas nexus it claims to be.

A mural in Maximo Gomez Park in Little Havana for the 1st Summit of the Americas in Miami in 1994.

COMMENTARY: Miami isn't the serious forum for hemispheric affairs it could be because its Latin America discussion isn't really about Latin America.

Some South Floridians might be bothered by the Biden Administration’s decision last week to hold this summer’s Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles and not Miami. After all, we’re the “nexus of the Americas.” The New World’s crossroads. Those heads of state should be coming to Calle Ocho, not Rodeo Drive.

Let me offer one explanation why the triennial hemispheric huddle is going Hollywood — their Hollywood, not ours:

Miami really isn’t the forum of the Americas it claims to be.

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Sure, we do enough trade with Latin America and the Caribbean to choke an Amazon anaconda. Pollo Tropical feels as ubiquitous as McDonald’s. Argentine inflation refugees seem to own as many condos here as New Jersey snow exiles do. You can hear reggaetón, konpa and samba just by crossing an intersection. As the U.S. media tell us over and over: Miami is … ¡caliente!

But what isn’t so hot is Miami’s image as a center of serious, open-minded discussion about hemispheric affairs. The kind of deliberation the Summit of the Americas was designed for. Why? Look no further than the bill Miami’s Cuban-American Congress members — Republicans Carlos Gimenez, Maria Elvira Salazar and Mario Diaz-Balart — introduced this week to create a new State Department position: a “Special Envoy to Combat the Global Rise of Authoritarian Socialism and Communism.”

READ MORE: Didion and democracy's degeneration. Why Miami — and 'Miami' — matter this week.

The last time I looked, combating global authoritarianism was already on the State Department’s to-do list (see: Ukraine crisis). But this legislation has about as much to do with foreign policy as anti-critical race theory bills have to do with education. It’s about South Florida politics — about stoking the fury of Latino voters here whose families fled tyrannical left-wing regimes in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, and Marxist guerrillas in Colombia. And about making Democrats look soft on those evil-doers when they balk at this redundant proposal.

It’s just the latest of myriad examples of Miami’s leadership compromising Miami’s leadership in the Americas. Who but left-wing loons don’t want the U.S. to confront governments like Cuba’s? By the same token, however, who but right-wing nuts don’t want the U.S. to confront governments like Brazil’s and Guatemala’s and Haiti’s? Yet the Miami troika’s bill makes no mention of authoritarians like far right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has malevolently undermined his country’s democracy and sabotaged its pandemic response.

Miami's refusal to acknowledge broader realities in the Americas beyond "socialismo" casts a shadow as long as I-95 on its ability to provide broader leadership on the Americas.

The problems the U.S. faces in this hemisphere are the product of authoritarian left- and right-wing governance. It’s no coincidence Honduras became the largest source of desperate asylum-seekers on the U.S.’s southern border in the past decade — when the country was governed by the brutal and corrupt right-wing National Party. Miami’s refusal to acknowledge broader realities like that casts a shadow as long as I-95 on its ability to create a broader summit atmosphere.

Bigfooting Latin American studies

I’ll acknowledge the White House’s decision to host the summit in Los Angeles carries its own political baggage: it wants to avoid the Miami minefield regarding Cuba (it's unclear if Cuba will be invited) and Latinos here who call President Biden, absurdly, a socialista. I’ll also concede former Democratic President Bill Clinton chose Miami to host the first Summit of the Americas in 1994 in part for political reasons: he wanted to thank Cuban exile leader Jorge Mas Canosa for giving cubanos a green light to vote for Democrats.

But all that just proves my point — that Miami’s Latin America discussion isn’t really about Latin America. It’s about one island in Latin America — Cuba — and a few other leftist-ruled countries whose exile causes are a supplement to the Cuban exile cause.

Miami Herald
Miami's Cuban-American Congress members (from left) Carlos Gimenez, Maria Elvira Salazar and Mario Diaz-Balart

This also hurts Miami’s ambitions to be an Americas arena beyond the Summit of the Americas. There are of course a number of top-flight Latin America scholars here, especially at Florida International University and the University of Miami. But academics have long complained about Miami’s Cuba-centrism bigfooting UM’s larger Latin American studies project.

And ask yourself how many nationally recognized, independent hemispheric think tanks — like the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington D.C. or the AS/COA in New York — are headquartered in Miami. There aren’t any.

It’s not because you can’t hear a wider range of Latin American culture here. It’s because you too often can’t hear a wider range of Latin American concerns here.