Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro has announced that he will attend the April 13 Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru, “rain, hail or shine,” despite the fact that Peru has disinvited him from the meeting with President Trump – if he goes – and 32 other heads of state.
It would be a big mistake to allow Maduro to crash the party.
It seems like a trivial issue, but it’s not. Disinviting Maduro from the summit was an unusually harsh measure by regional diplomatic standards.
The Summit of the Americas, held every three or four years, is the only Western Hemisphere summit attended by the presidents of the United States and all other countries in the region. Maduro wants to be there because he doesn’t want to be seen as an international pariah.
Top Latin American officials tell me that Maduro may want to use the occasion to stage a big political show just a week before Venezuela’s April 22 presidential elections, which have been denounced by the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and other key countries as a sham. Maduro has banned major opposition parties, prohibited top opposition leaders from running and refused to appoint an independent electoral authority or to allow credible international observers.
Some diplomats speculate that Maduro has nothing to lose by going to Peru. If Peru reverses its decision and allows him to attend the summit, he will be able to pose in smiling pictures with democratic heads of state. That would help him fight the notion that he is a persona non grata in the region.
On the other hand, if he’s kept out of the summit but somehow manages to fly into Peru, Maduro could lead a parallel “People’s Summit” on the streets and try to capitalize on Latin America’s anti-Trump sentiment. A leftist “People’s Summit” against former President George W. Bush at the 2005 Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, Argentina, pretty much stole the show.
Maduro could try to get into Peru aboard the presidential plane of Cuban dictator Raul Castro or Bolivian autocrat Evo Morales. Both Cuba and Bolivia already have demanded that Maduro be allowed to participate at the summit.
Granted, it seems somewhat contradictory for Latin American countries to ban Maduro from the summit while welcoming Castro. Cuba has not had a free election in almost six decades.
Peruvian officials say that’s because, under Summit of the Americas rules, participants should take measures against countries when there’s a “deterioration” of democratic rule. That has been the case of Venezuela, while in Cuba there has been a slight movement toward economic reforms, they claim.
It’s a pretty flimsy argument, but that shouldn’t detract from the merit of Peru’s decision – backed by the 14-country Group of Lima – to bar Venezuela from the Summit of the Americas.
My guess is that Maduro will decide against going to Lima for fear of a public-relations fiasco. In 1980, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet faced a similar situation when the Philippines disinvited him from visiting during a trip to Asia. Much like in Maduro’s case, a group of Asian countries had backed the Philippines’ decision to withdraw its invitation, and Pinochet at the last minute canceled his visit to the Philippines.
Yes, you can make the argument that Maduro, Castro and Morales will try to stage a remake of the 2005 People’s Summit in Argentina. But the world has changed since then. Oil-rich Venezuela is bankrupt, and – unlike late president Hugo Chavez, who got a red-carpet welcome when he went to Mar del Plata – Peru has told Maduro that he will be unwelcome there.
Maduro will probably stay at home. And if he decides to go anyway, he should be returned home at the airport.
Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for the Miami Herald. He can be contacted at email@example.com.