LATIN AMERICA

Divisions within Ibero-American community threaten to spoil summit

The absence of Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and Bolivia deepens split

Veracruz, Mexico -
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.MONCLOA

The 22 Ibero-American countries are united by historic, linguistic, cultural and emotional ties but its members do not necessarily get on well.

Despite the internal rivalries and quarrels, Mexico and Spain have tried to bring them all together at this year’s summit in Veracruz in an attempt to reinvent the group.

Spanish Foreign Minister José García-Margallo’s recent trip to Cuba, which marked the first official visit by a member of the Mariano Rajoy administration to the island, demonstrated Spain’s desire to rebuild bridges by putting aside stark political differences.

Brazil has never shown much interest in a group in which Mexico, the other regional superpower, is the main player

Meanwhile, the Ibero-American Summit’s new secretary general, Rebeca Grynspan, has also proposed focusing on areas of common interest such as education and innovation – issues far removed from ideological disputes.

Still, deep divisions arising in Latin America as the result of a slackening economy based on the high price of raw materials are threatening to leave a significant part of the group out of this renewal. Though many members are participating in the meetings, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Argentinean President Cristina Fernández and, barring any last minute surprises, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega will not attend. Only Raúl Castro’s arrival on the last day of the summit, which seems more and more unlikely, could help destroy the impression that the leftist nations most averse to liberal economics and free trade have turned their backs on the organization.

The absentees have different motives. Brazil has never shown much interest in a group in which Mexico, the other regional superpower, is the main player, and has chosen to focus on the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) where its leadership is indisputable. Only at King Juan Carlos’ insistence did Rousseff attend the Ibero-American Summit held in Cádiz in 2012.

Seven heads of state fail to attend Veracruz summit

M. GONZÁLEZ / J. M. AHRENS

Fifteen out of 22. Though it is far from a full house, the Ibero-American Summit in Veracruz is more successful than previous meetings held in Paraguay in 2011 and in Panama in 2013 where half of the group did not attend. Yet Veracruz trails behind Cádiz (2012) where only Argentina, Uruguay, Cuba and Venezuela failed to show up.

Besides Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Argentinean President Cristina Fernández, who were both expected to skip the event, Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, and Bolivian President Evo Morales also did not attend. On Sunday, Morales said these summits served "the interests of Spanish monarchs." Salvadoran President Salvador Sánchez Cerén did travel to Veracruz but then had to leave for health reasons. Though organizers did not rule out Cuba's appearance, it looks unlikely.

The fact that a country as important as Mexico was hosting this year's event seemed like a guarantee of success after many Latin American nations had begun showing less interest in the group they share with Portugal and Spain.

The arrival of new organization secretary general Rebeca Grynspan, the Costa Rican national who replaces veteran diplomat Enrique Iglesias, seemed to promise a renewal. The final result is half-baked – not so much because of the number of absentees but because heavyweights such as Brazil and Argentina chose not to attend.

Beyond the debates, the summit served as a platform for a number of bilateral meetings. The Spanish king met Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, while Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy met Paraguayan President Horacio Cortés and Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina.

Maduro, who called back his ambassador in Madrid after Rajoy met with the wife of opposition leader Leopoldo López, tries to maintain his leadership within the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), though the organization has been in decline since Hugo Chávez’s death and because of Venezuela’s growing difficulties in continuing to feed its allies subsidized oil.

The presence of leftist, though less dogmatic, leaders such as Uruguay’s José Mujica – who will bid the organization farewell this year since his term is coming to an end – Chile’s Michelle Bachelet, Salvador’s Salvador Sánchez Cerén, and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa livens up the political landscape in Veracruz.

This year’s summit – which will be the last annual gathering given that the organization has decided to schedule the meeting every two years – also makes space for civil society. More than 200 business leaders met on the sidelines of the summit, including the most important Spanish-language media companies – such as Univisión, Televisa and PRISA – which gathered to discuss the latest challenges posed by the digital market.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy used his opening remarks at the summit to focus on his country’s economic recovery and defend his winning formula: that structural reforms, though they might be painful, increase competitiveness. He played sweet music to his host’s ears given that Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has also undertaken his own structural reforms. But neither leader has produced favorable results for the general population. Latin Americans are taking divergent paths and the Ibero-American family in Veracruz is suffering.

Translation: Dyane Jean François

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