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Mexico leader opens summit amid security crisis

Published on 09/12/2014

Facing a security crisis shaking his administration, Mexico's embattled President Enrique Pena Nieto turned to diplomacy on Monday as he hosted a summit of Latin American, Spanish and Portuguese leaders.

Pena Nieto opened the two-day Ibero-American summit in Veracruz as Mexico’s image is tarnished by a security nightmare stemming from the September disappearance and probable massacre of 43 students.

Mexican officials were hoping for a better attendance than past summits, which have lost their luster over the years.

“Today in Mexico the moment has arrived to define the future of Ibero-America,” Pena Nieto said as he inaugurated the summit, 23 years after the first one in Guadalajara, western Mexico.

It is Spanish King Felipe VI’s first summit since he ascended to the throne in June, but the presidents of regional heavyweights Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela are not coming.

Sixteen of 22 leaders showed up on the first day, five more than last year’s summit in Panama, though Salvadoran President Salvador Sanchez Ceren missed the start due to an undisclosed illness.

Officials were hoping Cuban President Raul Castro could still make a surprise appearance by Tuesday, following a special invitation from Spain to attend his first ever Ibero-American talks talks since coming to power in 2006.

“President Castro is doing everything possible to come to this summit,” Mexican deputy foreign minister Vanessa Rubio told Radio Formula.

While the meeting is focusing on boosting education, innovation and culture in the region, the missing students case shadowed the event.

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.

– ‘Kind of failed state’ –

Hours before the meeting, around 20 protesters stood outside the convention center wearing black shirts with letters that spelled out “42 still missing, Pena out.”

The president has faced a wave of protests over the case, which has angered Mexicans fed up with a drug war that has left 100,000 people dead or missing since 2006.

Peruvian President Ollanta Humala told reporters on the sidelines of the meeting that his government backed Pena Nieto.

“This can be a point of unity for Mexican society, uniting, as they have been doing, to find the truth and prevent that this type of event, which shames all of us, from being repeated,” Humala said.

Uruguay’s President Jose Mujica 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.

But the talks focused on relaunching a forum that has lost influence over the years, as various trade and diplomatic blocs have formed in the region.

At a pre-summit event with Pena Nieto, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called for Ibero-American unity, saying the forum “is good for all of us, without exception.”

Pena Nieto said a key goal of the summit is to create an Ibero-American university exchange program for 200,000 students.

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa lamented the state of education in the region, stressing that “there are no Latin American universities among the 100 best in the world.”