Merida, April 16, 2018, (venezuelanalysis.com) – Cuba and Bolivia defended Venezuela at the VIII Summit of the Americas in Peru this past weekend as the South American country came under attack from Washington and its conservative regional allies.
The gathering brought together representatives from 33 of the 35 governments of Latin America, the Caribbean, and North America. It is held every 3-4 years and is traditionally attended by heads of state.
Despite the summit’s official theme being anti-corruption, the controversy surrounding Venezuela largely overshadowed the proceedings even with the Caribbean country’s absence. In February, Maduro was barred from attending by host country Peru in spite of Caracas’ protests that the move violated the summit’s own consensus-approved regulations.
US Vice President Mike Pence, who stood in for President Trump at this year’s summit after the latter opted last minute to stay in Washington to “oversee” the US-led strikes on Syria, used the event to rally regional allies behind more sanctions and a position of non-recognition of Venezuela’s upcoming electoral process.
“The United States believes now is the time to do more, much more,” Pence said in relation to Venezuela. “Every free nation gathered here must take action to isolate the [Venezuelan President] Maduro regime”.
“Our message is for our allies to unite (…), and we also bring a call for more sanctions, more isolation, and more diplomatic pressure,” he continued.
Pence was seconded by the right-wing leaders of Colombia, Peru, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, among others, who similarly took shots at Venezuela, denouncing the Maduro government as a “dictatorship”.
In response, two of Venezuela’s closest allies in the region, Cuba and Bolivia, firmly rejected the US position, denouncing Washington’s interference in the region.
“Bolivia condemns the sanctions and threats of invasion from the US against Venezuela. Our region is no one’s back yard,” declared Bolivian President Evo Morales during his speech at the summit.
For his part, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez also “rejected the insulting references to Cuba and Venezuela” made by Pence whilst claiming that efforts to not recognise the upcoming elections were “completely undemocratic”.
Ultimately, Havana, La Paz, and other Venezuela allies won something of a victory over the weekend when they succeeded in blocking any consensus on including anti-Caracas rhetoric in the final declaration.
Instead, fifteen conservative governments, including Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Panama, Chile, Peru, and Colombia, followed the US in singing a separate declaration vowing to “support efforts and decisions of the countries of the region to contribute to restoring democracy in Venezuela.”
The joint statement reiterates Washington and its allies’ refusal to recognize the results of Venezuela’s upcoming May 20 elections which they consider “lacking in legitimacy and credibility” despite a host of electoral guarantees agreed to by a section of the opposition backing former Governor Henri Falcon’s candidacy.
Additionally, the document “calls on countries which have adopted measures to amplify them and strengthen them,” alluding to sanctions and other unilateral measures which have been imposed by the US, Canada, and most recently Panama.
Alongside pushing for more sanctions against Caracas, the declaration urges the international community to “support Venezuela’s economic recovery” but only “once the democratic and constitutional order has been restored”.
President Maduro was not present at the summit following a last-minute announcement he would boycott the event in order to “stay at home with the Venezuelan people” despite previous promises to attend the gathering “come rain or shine, by air, land, or sea”. From Caracas, he proclaimed that the meeting in Peru had been a “complete failure” and “a total waste of time,” and was “not one our priorities, it never has been”.
“I was seeing reports of some empty speeches by right-wing, unpopular, murderous, imperialist lackey presidents,” Maduro declared during a rally against US bombing of Syria on Saturday.
Maduro had been banned from attending the summit by Peru’s ex-president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski before the Peruvian leader was forced to step down in March following allegations that he received bribes worth more than US$1 million from Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht.
The move provoked a backlash from Caracas’ regional allies as well as talk of holding an alternative summit in St. Vincent & the Grenadines, but ultimately only Antigua and Barbuda ended up boycotting the gathering in solidarity with Venezuela.
Venezuela was not entirely without representation at the summit, however, as numerous opposition leaders made the trip to lobby for stepped-up international pressure on the Caribbean country, including further sanctions.
National Assembly deputies such as Julio Borges and Williams Davila, ex-mayors such as David Smolansky and Antonio Ledezma, who are both currently fleeing the Venezuelan justice system, as well as Popular Will party National Coordinator Carlos Vecchio traveled to Lima to participate in the gathering.
On the sidelines of the summit, they met with stalwarts of US policy in the region such as hardline Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, Organisation of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro, USAID Administrator Mark Green, and even Pence himself.
“In a meeting with the US vice president, I called for humanitarian intervention and the expansion and intervention of sanctions for Maduro, members of his inner circle, frontmen, the confiscation of goods and assets stolen from Venezuela,” tweeted Ledezma, who was indicted in 2015 in connection to alleged efforts to violently overthrow the government and fled house arrest last November.
Last August, the Trump administration imposed harsh financial sanctions on Venezuela and its state oil company PDVSA, which at the time were publicly endorsed by the opposition. The move was followed by subsequent rounds of sanctions targeting top Caracas officials, with Canada and the European Union following suit.
Edited and with additional reporting by Lucas Koerner from Caracas.