(CNN)The Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles is entering its liveliest stage with a series of high-profile bilateral meetings, but the absence of key players in the United States' effort to address migration to the southern border might be a headache for the White House.
The White House wants to tackle migration again. But the key players were nowhere to be found at the Summit of Americas
Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras play an oversize role in the issue of migration. Collectively known as the Northern Triangle, they are countries of origin for tens of thousands of migrants, and a key transit point for even more travelers who approach the southern border with the hope of re-locating to the United States.
The Biden administration has focused heavily on these three countries. Vice President Kamala Harris visited Guatemala a year ago and then this year she traveled to Honduras to congratulate newly elected President Xiomara Castro.
Despite the overtures, President Castro and her two counterparts, President Alejandro Giammattei of Guatemala and Nayib Bukele of El Salvador, skipped the summit in Los Angeles this week.
Their absence were evident on Tuesday, when Harris unveiled a pledge worth $3.2 billion of private investments to address "the root causes of migration" in the Northern Triangle. In her speech, the Vice President spoke directly to the private sector and civil society in the Northern Triangle, touting the opportunities in job creation and a stronger partnership with US-based companies.
"It is a shame that none of the governments are there to speak with her, especially Honduras, but for the most part the current governments of the Northern Triangle are more obstacles than partners," said Adam Isaacson, director of defense oversight at the Washington Office for Latin America (WOLA), and an expert on migration to the southern border.
Bukele and Giammattei, in particular, have opened the door to anti-democratic behavior in their respective countries in recent years -- the former famously led armed soldiers into congress to pass a budget law in 2020 -- and relations with the US have declined since Biden took power as the White House has repeatedly criticized this sort of conduct.
"Bukele and Giammattei are actively dismantling democracy and fostering corruption, they are creating the conditions that lead to more migration [...] which explains why the Biden administration made the choice to emphasize the private sector," Isaacson told CNN.
None of these countries were invited to the State Department's 'Summit for Democracy' held last December, and several international organizations have raised concerns about corruption, limits on checks and balances in government and democratic backsliding.