PANAMA CITY, October 21, 2013 (AFP & InsideCostaRica.com) – A poorly attended summit of Spain, Portugal and their former colonies across the Americas wrapped up Saturday with a decision to meet less often.
Half the presidents of member nations failed to show, underscoring the waning attraction of a forum meant to rally pride, unity and cooperation from diverse cultural cousins.
Eleven presidents – including Costa Rica’s Laura Chinchilla – attended the 23rd Ibero-American summit in Panama City, which was to have brought together leaders of 22 countries.
Instead of meeting annually, they decided to get together every other year instead, starting after next year’s summit in Veracruz, Mexico.
“This mechanism of dialogue and cooperation is called to renew itself so that it responds to the challenges of our times,” said next year’s host Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.
Among the no-shows were leaders from most of the more powerful countries in South America, including Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, Chile’s Sebastian Pinera, and Argentina’s Cristina Kirchner.
Also missing, for the first time since the group first met in 1991, was Spain’s King Juan Carlos, who is still recovering from hip surgery.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said that after 22 years of summits the forum needed “a new direction and renewal to adapt to the changes that have taken place in our countries and on the international stage.”
In a post-Cold War world, China has risen as a major economic player in Latin America, in some cases displacing Europe and the United States.
Spain and Portugal are struggling with their own economic problems, although Rajoy assured summit participants his country’s economy was “beginning to come out” of crisis.
He said Latin America has played “a significant role” in Spain’s recovery.
“Latin America has always been an opportunity for Spain, but Spain also is an opportunity for Latin America” to gain access to European markets, he said.
But Latin America has been moving in new directions on its own, forming trading blocs and regional security organizations.
Pena Nieto, for example, met Friday on the summit sidelines with Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli on Panama’s plans to join the Pacific Alliance, a trade bloc that includes Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Peru.
The summit’s organizer, Enrique Iglesias, said it was unfair to say the summit was a failure because of the poor attendance by regional leaders.
“The seats are not empty, there has always been a representative and absolutely all the countries participated,” he said.
“Anybody who tells me there is no spirit of Ibero-American cooperation is imagining things,” he said.