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Editorial: Latin American dictators get zero tolerance, but Biden gives the Saudis a pass

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Biden and Mexico's president

President Joe Biden, right, meets with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador at the White House on Nov. 18. 

For the United States to have any hope of restoring itself as a global beacon of democracy, the Biden administration must take a firm and consistent stand when dealing with dictators. If other nations’ leaders can’t embrace the fundamentals of democracy, they don’t deserve to be welcomed on these shores. President Joe Biden faced some precarious choices this week in hosting the Summit of the Americas and scheduling a July trip to Saudi Arabia, a notorious human rights abuser.

The easy part was Biden’s refusal to invite Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua to the Americas summit in Los Angeles. His decision irked Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who boycotted in solidarity with the excluded leaders.

The hard part is Saudi Arabia, whose oil production could boost global supplies and bring gasoline prices back to normal. But a visit with Biden and the legitimacy it would convey is the steep price the U.S. president would have to pay — all so he can boost his approval ratings and help his party avoid a battering in midterm elections.

During the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden was unequivocal regarding Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, promising to take a markedly tougher approach than the fawning and kowtowing that occurred under President Donald Trump. Biden promised to make the Saudis “pay the price, and make them in fact the pariah that they are.”

Yet now he’s planning a visit in July to include a meeting with Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, who reportedly ordered the murder of Washington Post opinion writer Jamal Khashoggi. The Saudis are doing everything they can to erase that memory and divert public attention, including buying off top-level professional golfers. Biden plays directly into the Saudis’ plan.

Our preference would be that Biden hold firm and demand full accountability from the Saudi crown prince. Khashoggi was snuffed out, in true dictatorial fashion, for criticizing the royal family’s corruption, human rights record and suppression of free expression. But since money talks, and petroleum is today’s global currency, the crown prince gets a pass. The hypocrisy is disgusting, especially since Biden promised precisely the opposite approach.

As for the Summit of the Americas, the policy of excluding dictatorships from the meeting is not imposed by the United States but rather by the 34 member-nations themselves. The Inter-American Democratic Charter binds all members of the Organization of American States to the defense of democracy and proclaims that “the peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy.”

When Mexico’s president comes to the defense of bona fide dictatorships — and there’s no question that Cuba and Venezuela are dictatorships — he defends oppression over freedom. But the United States has no room to judge or condemn if Biden is so quick to compromise his and America’s cherished principles for a cheap barrel of oil.

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