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Ibero-American summit: Waiting for Castro

Published on 09/12/2014

He has yet to RSVP, but Cuban President Raul Castro appears set to shun another Ibero-American summit on Tuesday despite attempts to make him finally attend the gathering.

When Latin American, Spanish and Portuguese leaders wrap up their two-day talks in Mexico’s eastern port of Veracruz, Cuba may only be represented by Castro’s deputy.

Castro has never attended an Ibero-American summit since taking over duties from his brother Fidel in 2006, when the veteran leader underwent surgery.

Fidel Castro had already stopped attending the forum after a plot to assassinate him was uncovered at the 2000 summit in Panama.

But Spain’s conservative government sent Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo to Cuba last month to improve ties with Havana and convince Castro to attend the summit, the first for the new King Felipe VI.

The communist leader already missed the first day of the event on Monday because he was hosting a meeting with Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders in Havana.

Nevertheless, Mexican deputy foreign minister Vanessa Rubio said Monday that Castro was “doing everything possible to come to this summit.”

It would take a short flight over across the Gulf of Mexico for Castro to make it to Veracruz before the summit ends Tuesday afternoon.

Castro’s trips are usually not made public by the Cuban government until he has left the island.

But a Mexican government official told AFP that Cuban Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel was arriving in the coming hours to be the head of the Cuban delegation.

The official said the Cubans had not confirmed whether Castro would come.

But the vice president’s arrival makes the Cuban president’s presence less likely.

– Waning summit –

The 22-nation Ibero-American summit has been drawing fewer leaders over the years, with only 11 showing up at last year’s gathering in Panama.

This year’s event was a bit better, attracting 16 leaders, though Salvadoran President Salvador Sanchez Ceren fell ill and missed the first day.

But it is the last annual meeting, as member countries have decided to meet every two years from now on.

The Veracruz summit is focusing on boosting education, innovation and culture in the Ibero-American community, which includes countries of the former Portuguese and Spanish empires.

“Today in Mexico the moment has arrived to define the future of Ibero-America,” Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said when he opened the summit on Monday.

The talks come as Pena Nieto faces the biggest challenge of his presidency, with a wave of protests over the presumed massacre of 43 college students.

Prosecutors confirmed over the weekend that one of the 43 missing students was among charred remains found in a landfill and nearby river in Guerrero state.

The identification by an Austrian medical university bolstered suspicions that the students were slaughtered by a drug gang after they were delivered to the hitmen by corrupt police.