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LATIN AMERICA

Ibero-American Summit looks to reinvent itself at Veracruz gathering

After languishing in recent years, the organization of 22 nations is seeking its place

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff does not attend

The king next to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in Veracruz.
The king next to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in Veracruz. EFE

Almost a quarter century after its birth in Guadalajara, Mexico, members of the Ibero-American Summit meet on Monday and Tuesday in Veracruz to face the group’s latest challenge: reinvention. Finding itself unable to compete with newer regional organizations such as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) and the Pacific Alliance, the group has languished in the last few years, so much so that half of the member heads of state did not attend the 2011 conference in Paraguay or the 2013 meeting in Panama.

To avoid new fiascos, the organization has decided to space out the summits. From now on the conference will no longer take place every year; instead member states will meet every two years, alternating with the EU-CELAC Summit. Thus, the next Ibero-American summit will take place in 2016 in Colombia.

It remains unknown whether Cuban President Raúl Castro will join in

The conference comes at a delicate economic time for its members. Spain and Portugal have been unable to bring an end to their crises, while the days of five percent GDP growth rates are over for Latin America. Although there are notable differences between countries, the region is experiencing a severe economic slowdown, which has led to fears of a resurgence in social unrest.

In spite of the advances made in the last few years, Latin America continues to show enormous income disparities – a burden made worse by the violence that has especially affected Mexico and Central America. Although the Ibero-American Summit, which focuses on education, culture and innovation, will likely tiptoe around these problems, the atmosphere is far from optimistic. Even those governments that have recently validated their leadership by winning re-election or those, like that of Mexico, with plenty of time left to maneuver, are worried.

The leaders of 22 countries – 19 Latin American nations plus Spain, Portugal and Andorra – were invited to this year’s summit. However, there are two notable no-shows: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who is engrossed in forming her new cabinet after her slim victory over Aécio Neves in the recent elections, and Argentinean leader Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who cited health reasons – though these did not keep her from attending the recent Unasur summit in Ecuador.

Grynspan is determined to turn the organization into an attractive and useful instrument with its own context

It remains unknown whether Cuban President Raúl Castro will join in. Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo traveled to the island in late November to convince the Cuban leader to attend a forum in which the Castro regime has not participated since 2000. The Spanish official, however, was not received. A Caribbean conference in Cuba scheduled at the same time as the Ibero-American Summit presented an obstacle but the Spanish diplomat trusted that Castro would at least attend the second day of the conference, and not just at his insistence. After a long decade of tense diplomatic relations under National Action Party (PAN) administrations, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has launched a rapprochement policy with Cuba and his government has written off 70 percent of the island’s debt.

Spain’s King Felipe VI has been in Veracruz since Saturday. This year marks his first time at the conference as head of state. As a prince, Felipe participated in two Ibero-American Summits – in Salamanca in 2005 and in Cádiz in 2012. Last year, he traveled to Panama to replace his father, King Juan Carlos, who was recovering from surgery, but he had to remain in the wings and abstain from participating in debates. This year he will attend closed meetings with other heads of state where they hold private discussions without a set agenda as well as take part in at least six public events – some of which are meetings held on the sidelines.

Rebeca Grynspan, the new secretary general of the Ibero-American Summit, a Costa Rican national who replaced veteran diplomat Enrique Iglesias, is making her first official appearance in Veracruz. Grynspan is determined to turn the organization into an attractive and useful instrument with its own context. Unlike other political forums, she wants to make the group more pragmatic and promote cooperation on specific areas of common interest.

One of its star projects is the launch of an alliance for exchange programs to connect talented individuals

The theme of the conference is “Education, Innovation and Culture” – an indication of what the future holds. One of its star projects is the launch of an alliance for exchange programs to connect talented individuals, including researchers, university professors and students. The organization is also set to create an Ibero-American youth card that will give holders access to discounts and other offers through certain agreements with businesses.

Some initiatives are still in their opening stages and require financing. For example, the so-called Ibero-American Erasmus program whose aim is to furnish scholarships to 200,000 students to study at Ibero-American universities over five years. On this young continent where 25 percent of the population is between 15 and 29 years old, improving education and facilitating employment opportunities are not just the only guarantees to development. They are the best ways to face serious security problems.

The disappearance of 43 students in Iguala on September 26 shed light on the collusion between politicians, police forces and organized crime in Mexico, forcing Peña Nieto to launch an extensive campaign to reform security forces. The Spanish king and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy will be in Veracruz to support the Mexican president, and not just with words. Spain’s Civil Guard is set to advise Mexico on training and organizing its new police force.

Spain’s Civil Guard is set to advise Mexico on training and organizing its new police force

A number of events will take place on the sidelines of the conference, showing that the civilian Ibero-American community’s ties exist beyond meetings between politicians. Ibero-American leaders will gather for the Business Meeting and the Communication Forum, which brings together the most important media companies on both sides of the Atlantic, including Televisa and Grupo Prisa.

Unlike at previous summits, Veracruz will not host any events for first ladies or the partners of attending heads of state – a turn of events that prevented Queen Letizia from joining Felipe VI on the trip. Although Mexico has offered no explanation for the change, diplomatic sources suspect the country wanted to avoid any signs of frivolity, especially after the scandal caused by Mexican First Lady Ángelica Rivera’s controversial purchase of a luxury home.

Translation: Dyane Jean François

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