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Absences glare again at Ibero-American summit

Latin American nations and their ex-colonial powers, Portugal and Spain, wrapped up a summit Tuesday again marked by major absences, with the leaders of Argentina, Brazil and Cuba shunning the event.

The two-day Ibero-American summit in the Mexican port of Veracruz was billed as a “renewal” of a forum that was launched in 1991 but has since struggled to fill seats.

In all, 16 of 22 leaders came to Mexico, but El Salvador’s President Salvador Sanchez Ceren had to leave before the summit started because he fell ill.

While officials said it was the best attendance since 2005, those who did not come included regional heavyweights: Dilma Rousseff of Brazil; Cristina Kirchner of Argentina; Raul Castro of Cuba; and Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela.

The absences highlighted splits in the vast Latin American region, as the six leaders who missed the summit, including those of Nicaragua and Bolivia, are all left of center.

Bolivian President Evo Morales, who sent an ambassador in his place, said this week that the forum was founded by “the monarchs of Spain, of Europe, for their own interests.”

Spain’s King Felipe VI meanwhile was here on his first Ibero-American summit since he took the throne.

The hemisphere has also seen a proliferation of trade and diplomatic blocs over the past two decades, pushing the Ibero-American forum down on the priority list of some leaders.

Despite the absences, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told reporters, “The Ibero-American summit was a success.”

Spain’s conservative government made a special push to get Castro to attend the summit for the first time since he took over duties from his brother Fidel in 2006.

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

Raul Castro kept organizers wondering whether he would show up in Veracruz until the last moment, only to send his vice president, Miguel Diaz-Canel.

Castro was a doubt after he hosted his own summit in Havana on Monday for Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders.

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo told reporters he learned Castro would not come hours before the summit ended.

But he also downplayed the absences.

“I won’t hide the fact that there are different visions of the world and that this happens every time there is a meeting of this type,” Garcia-Margallo said.

“What summits won’t do is … make the Holy Spirit appear and make differences disappear, that I become (socialist) Bolivarian and (Venezuelan President Nicolas) Maduro become Christian-Democrat. These things don’t happen.”

– Leaders omit Mexico crisis –

The Veracruz summit focused on boosting education, innovation and culture to spur growth in the region, which includes countries of the former Portuguese and Spanish empires.

The main agreement was the creation of a university exchange program for 200,000 students.

The leaders issued statements backing Colombia’s peace talks, calling on Washington to end the Cuban embargo encouraging Britain and Argentina to resume negotiations over the disputed Falkland Islands.

But the summit omitted any mention of Mexico’s security crisis following the presumed massacre of 43 students by a police-backed gang.

Uruguayan President Jose Mujica made a veiled reference to the issue during the talks, telling Mexican counterpart Enrique Pena Nieto: “I know you have problems, but if democracies don’t overcome problems, nobody can.”