Fading Ibero-American summit offers Mexico leader respite
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto hosts an Ibero-American summit Monday that could give him some respite from a security crisis battering his international image, though the forum has lost prestige.
The two-day meeting in the eastern port of Veracruz comes as Pena Nieto faces the biggest challenge of his presidency, with a wave of protests over the apparent massacre of 43 students by a police-backed gang.
The summit between Spain, Portugal and their former empires will give Pena Nieto a chance to shift the conversation away from the drug violence haunting his country.
“This summit will mainly be to show that Mexico is still functioning, it is still working, and that the Pena Nieto government is strong and has a direction,” said Ana Luisa Trujillo Juarez, an international relations expert at Mexico’s National Autonomous University.
Regional leaders will likely back Pena Nieto’s efforts to restore security in Mexico “because it is a key country and, in the end, they want more stability in our country to benefit the region,” she told AFP.
Mexican Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Meade said the talks will focus on culture, innovation and education, telling Radio Formula that these issues “help us build conditions of peace.”
But the gathering has attracted fewer and fewer regional leaders over the years, prompting last year’s summit to decide to hold the meeting every two years after Mexico hosts it.
Last year, only 11 of 22 leaders attended the Panama summit.
The region has formed several blocs in recent years, from the four-nation Pacific Alliance to the 33-country CELAC and the South American Mercosur and UNASUR groupings.
With the Summit of the Americas that includes the United States, regional leaders have enough forums to fill the year.
“Latin America is a bunch of countries that have a similar language and are in the same geographic place, but otherwise they are so divergent now,” said Adam Isacson, regional security expert at the Washington Office on Latin America think tank.
– Will Raul Castro come? –
The presidents of Peru, Chile and Colombia, which are part of the Pacific Alliance with Mexico, have confirmed their attendance, along with those of Uruguay, Paraguay and four Central Americans.
Neither Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff nor Argentina’s Cristina Kirchner are going.
Others have yet to confirm, including Cuban President Raul Castro, who has never attended an Ibero-American summit since taking office in 2006 but has been invited by Spain to come this year.
It will be the first Ibero-American summit for Spain’s new King Felipe VI, who succeeded his retiring father in June.
During a visit to Cuba in late November, Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said he wanted Castro to attend the summit because Havana “plays an essential role in the Ibero-American community” and that his presence is important to ensure it succeeds.
Past summist have been upstaged by incidents.
The 2000 summit in Panama is remembered for a failed bomb plot against Fidel Castro.
In 2007, Spain’s former king Juan Carlos told Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez to “shut up” after the socialist firebrand described a former Spanish prime minister as a fascist.
“The Ibero-American summits have become a nightmare for the Spanish government,” said Spanish political expert Jose Antonio Zarzalejos.
“A few years ago it was the most important summit in Latin America, with Spain the bridge to the European Union,” he said. “But it has faded in recent years.”