By Matt Spetalnick
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government are likely to be excluded from the U.S.-hosted Summit of the Americas to be held in June in Los Angeles, a senior State Department official said on Wednesday.
"They are unlikely to be there," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols told a small group of reporters, saying the summit of regional leaders would focus on the Western Hemisphere's democracies.
The comments marked the clearest message that those three governments, all on bad terms with Washington, will be snubbed once the White House releases the invitation list. That announcement, Nichols added, would come soon.
On Monday, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said the United States decided to exclude Cuba from summit preparations, a setback for relations just days after the long-time rivals held their first high-level talks in four years.
Nichols also said there was unlikely to be a role for Maduro's government at the 9th Summit of the Americas but said it would be up to the White House to decide whether to invite Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido in his place.
Washington and dozens of other countries have recognized Guaido as Venezuela's rightful leader and shunned Maduro, a Socialist, after accusing him of rigging his 2018 reelection.
Nichols expressed "deep respect" for Guaido's "interim government" and said Venezuela's political situation would be addressed at the summit. Despite U.S. sanctions, Maduro has held onto power, backed by the military and Russia, China and Cuba.
Relations have remained tense with Cuba's Communist government under U.S. President Joe Biden, whose administration has alleged human rights violations against those who protested in widespread rallies on the island last July.
The United States has also been at odds with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla, who won a fourth consecutive term in November after jailing political rivals and cracking down on critical media.
"It's clear Nicaragua has ceased any semblance of democracy in the wake of the sham election," Nichols said.
Nichols offered no direct response when asked whether El Salvador might also be excluded but said "we are very much concerned by the erosion of democratic institutions."
Irregular migration, a big challenge for Biden at the U.S.-Mexico border, will be high on the agenda, and Russia's invasion of Ukraine will figure into the discussions. The leaders are expected to talk about related supply chain problems, rising energy costs and increased commodities and fertilizer prices, Nichols said.
Cuba participated in the 2015 summit in Panama and the 2018 gathering in Peru. Maduro was excluded in 2018 due to regional censure of his democratic record.
Nichols said at least 27 countries were expected at the June 6-10 summit, held every three or four years since 1994.
Regional heads of state and government normally attend, and Nichols signaled that was expected this time, saying while invitations had not yet gone out he had seen a strong desire to participate.
(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Leslie Adler and David Gregorio)