Hemispheric summit: a meeting of minds?

11 February 2018

Being the organiser of a major international get-together is usually a political plus for the host country; Peru has now hosted a number of such gatherings in recent years. But the hemispheric summit, scheduled for April 13-14 in Lima, looks like being problematic.

The hemispheric meeting takes place every two years, the last one in Cartagena, Colombia, in 2016. The sequence began in Miami in 1994 when Bill Clinton was seeking to unite the western hemisphere in a single free trade area, the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

Inevitably, it is a forum in which the relations between the countries of Latin America and their big brother to the north are the main area of concern. This year, it is no secret that the target will be Venezuela, with the Trump administration seeking to orchestrate a more full-blooded response towards President Nicolás Maduro than hitherto on the part of Latin America. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Lima last week to ram the point home.

It is far from certain that either Trump or Maduro will bother to turn up. Both have been formally invited, but both may shy away from the frosty reception they may receive in Lima. Peru has already made clear its position when it comes to dealing with Caracas by declaring its hostility to the bringing forward of elections in Venezuela.

Maduro last week confirmed his intention to be there, defending his right to participate against the manoeuvres of some states to have him labelled persona non grata. But the Venezuelan president is likely to have other priorities in as much as the Lima meeting is but a week before the now confirmed date (22 April) of Venezuela’s presidential elections in which he is a candidate.

According to the Peruvian foreign ministry, Trump will only make clear whether he will attend closer to the date. Apart from wanting to build a wall along the US-Mexican border and berate both Venezuela and Cuba, Trump has shown scant interest so far in inter-American relations.

But perhaps even more seriously, the man who wrote the invitations may himself not be present. Pedro Pablo Kuczynski’s future still hangs in the balance, dependent it would seem on what Jorge Barata, Odebrecht’s former representative in Lima, has to say about deals he did with the Brazilian construction firm when he held ministerial office under President Alejandro Toledo.

The hemispheric get-together could turn out a major embarrassment for the government in Lima. It is perhaps ironic that its proclaimed theme is the fight against corruption in the region. It will almost certainly do nothing to improve the tenor of relations between Washington and the region.

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