Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto hosts Latin American, Spanish and Portuguese leaders on Monday, as he comes under attack at home over his country’s latest descent into violent crisis.
The two-day Ibero-American summit in Veracruz comes as Mexico’s image has taken a hit over a security nightmare stemming from the September disappearance and probable massacre of 43 students.
And the guest list is not as impressive as in previous years.
It will be the first summit for Spain’s King Felipe VI since he ascended to the throne in June, but the presidents of regional heavyweights Brazil and Argentina are not coming.
Several other leaders have yet to confirm their attendance.
As the leaders began to arrive in Mexico over the weekend, prosecutors confirmed that one of the 43 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.
Pena Nieto could not escape the issue, already the biggest challenge of his two-year-old presidency, when he addressed business leaders on the eve of the summit alongside Spain’s king.
“I’m thankful for the displays of solidarity toward Mexico shown by the Ibero-American community, which has been with us in this moment in which Mexico is immersed,” he said late Sunday.
Analysts say the summit could help Pena Nieto gain international backing amid protests over his handling of the case, which has angered Mexicans fed up with a drug war that has left 100,000 people dead or missing since 2006.
Ibero-American leaders could “back his efforts to consolidate the rule of law,” said Arlene Ramirez Uresti, foreign relations professor at the Monterrey Institute of Technology.
Uruguay’s President Jose Mujica, who is attending, caused waves last week when he said the case showed that Mexico was a “kind of failed state” — words he quickly retracted after Mexico protested.
Pena Nieto, however, said the summit would focus on promoting innovation, culture and education in the region.
– Fading forum –
But the meeting has lost its luster in recent years, with fewer and fewer leaders attending the gathering as various trade and diplomatic blocs have formed in the region.
Cuban President Raul Castro has yet to indicate whether he will come despite being asked by Madrid to finally attend his first Ibero-American summit since taking office in 2006.
King Felipe called for the Ibero-American community to tighten its bonds in order to battle economic problems.
Despite Latin America’s economic slowdown, the king told business leaders Sunday, “this region will clearly be an engine of the world economic recovery.”
Adam Isacson, a regional security expert at the Washington Office on Latin America think tank, said Latin American nations have formed so many groups that the Ibero-American summit ranks low in their priorities.
“Judging from the rank of people going it clearly has less influence on the region than it used to,” he said.
“Maybe one reason too is that the opportunity with Spain and Portugal is less of a priority since the economies of both of those countries tanked in 2008 and 2009.”