Summit of the Americas begins amid regional tumult

The summit unites the leaders of the Americas as corruption scandals continue and Trump sends US troops to the border.

The eighth Summit of the Americas, a conference that draws together the leaders of North, Central and South America, begins in Lima, Peru, on Friday amid continued political instability throughout the region.

Business leaders are set to convene the first meeting of the summit on Monday morning. The topics to be discussed include Latin America’s economic outlook and recommendations from civil society actors.

As of April 5, at least 20 heads of state had committed to attending the summit.

“We are ready, prepared, and everything is very well organised to welcome the important Heads of State and their delegations,” Peru’s Foreign Affairs Minister Nestor Popolizio said in a press release.

The summit’s theme is “Democratic Governance against Corruption”.

Regional tumult

The summit comes during a time of region-wide political instability and change. Peru’s President Martin Vizcarra assumed office on March 23, after former president and billionaire businessman Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned due to numerous scandals throughout his short presidency.

The Odebrecht bribery scandal was among the scandals that marred Kuczynski’s tenure. Odebrecht is a Brazilian construction company behind the 2014 world cup in Brazil, the 2016 Olympic Games in the same country, Caracas, Venezuela’s metro system and numerous other projects across the continent, as well as Portugal, Mozambique and Angola.

Odebrecht has reportedly admitted to bribing politicians throughout the region with payments numbering in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Kuczynski was accused of lying about payments received from the firm in the mid-2000s.

Petrobras, Brazil’s state-controlled petroleum firm, has its own multimillion-dollar graft scheme that allegedly involved officials taking bribes to award construction contracts to companies at inflated rates.

Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, commonly called Lula turned himself into police on April 7 after a dramatic standoff with police. The Supreme Court denied a request from Lula to avoid beginning his 12-year jail sentence while he exhausted all of his appeals over a corruption conviction. 

Lula, a left-wing populist, still has a strong base of support in Brazil, which is currently headed by a right-wing government. He had hoped to run for president during October’s elections. 

Over the past two years, there have been further protests and political battles in Ecuador, Argentina, Bolivia and Mexico.

Trouble north of the border

US President Donald Trump was expected to attend the summit, but cancelled on Tuesday, citing developments in Syria

Mexico, along with Central American states El Salvador and Honduras, have enjoyed strained relations with the US since Trump assumed office in January 2017.

The Trump administration initiated a crackdown on undocumented immigrants from Latin America, – especially Mexico and Central America countries – living in the US. Trump has also repeatedly called for a wall along the US-Mexico border.

Last week, the Trump administration announced it would send 500 National Guard troops to the border, and several states have pledged to send more.

Venezuela will hold snap presidential elections in May. Several Latin American governments have said they won’t recognise the election after the main opposition coalition was barred from running in January.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was not invited to the summit but has said he will attend. 

The Trump administration is in the middle of renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which opened trade between Canada, Mexico and the US.

The Trump administration is currently in talks to change aspects of the agreement to better favour US businesses. Trump told US officials on April 5 he expects a deal to be reached “soon”.

Source: Al Jazeera