World Economy

LatAm Leaders Again Pledge to Fight Systemic Corruption

Many heads of state in attendance lead administrations that face allegations of misusing public funds, obstructing justice and accepting bribes
The Summit of the Americas was held in Lima April 13-14.The Summit of the Americas was held in Lima April 13-14.

Leaders from throughout the Americas vowed Saturday to confront systemic corruption at a time when graft scandals plague many of their own governments but they made relatively little progress in determining a regional response to Venezuela's mounting humanitarian crisis.

Sixteen of the 33 nations gathered for the Eighth Summit of the Americas, issued a statement on the sidelines of the event in Peru calling on Venezuela to hold free and transparent elections and allow international aid to the enter the beleaguered nation, AP reported.

But the joint statement from mostly conservative-run countries didn't vary significantly from previous declarations or promise any additional money to help neighboring countries respond to a mounting migration crisis.

"I don't see any progress there," said Richard Feinberg, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who helped organize the first Summit of Americas in 1994.

Though the theme of this year's gathering of Western Hemisphere leaders was battling corruption, many leaders used the platform to voice their concerns on Venezuela as President Nicolas Maduro proceeds with plans to hold a presidential election that many foreign governments consider a sham.

Still, there were a handful of Venezuelan allies present including Cuba and Bolivia and the sole joint declaration adopted at the summit was a region-wide commitment to root out corruption.

57 Action Points

The "Lima Commitment: Democratic Governance Against Corruption" includes 57 action points that Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra said would constitute a base for preventing corruption. Analysts are skeptical that it will lead to any tangible change. Many heads of state in attendance lead administrations that face allegations of misusing public funds, obstructing justice and accepting bribes.

"The hard part will come when leaders return home," said Shannon O'Neil, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank. "These initiatives will take much time and effort to implement, and will in many places face significant push back."

This year's summit was one of the least attended yet, raising questions about the future of the regional gathering started in 1994 by then-US president Bill Clinton. US leader Donald Trump canceled what would have been his first trip as president to Latin American in order to manage the US response to an apparent chemical weapons attack in Syria. More than a half-dozen other regional presidents followed suit, some in apparent acts of solidarity with Maduro, whose invitation was withdrawn.

The summit's initial goal was to promote representative democracy and free trade in the Americas, but in recent years both topics have been testy subjects. Instead it has become a stage for awkward encounters between left-leaning leaders and their more conservative counterparts.

Discord on Display

Some of that discord was on display at Saturday's plenary session, when Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez chastised US Vice President Mike Pence as "ignoring reality". "I reject these insulting references to Cuba and Venezuela," he said after Pence assailed Maduro as being responsible for Venezuela's deepening crisis.

Pence, who filled in for Trump, spent part of the summit trying to drum up support for further isolating Venezuela, which faces mounting US sanctions.

Leaders including Vizcarra lamented that two decades later corruption remains just as entrenched if not more so in many public institutions throughout the region. "That pledge wasn't achieved," Vizcarra said in his opening remarks Friday.

Feinberg said the new declaration against corruption is an important step forward, including timely updates aimed at helping improve transparency in the digital age. But he also pointed out that it doesn't include any new resources for fighting corruption or sanctions for those who don't comply.

Maduro Says Summit a Failure

Maduro has described this year's controversial summit as a "complete failure" during a speech at a rally in Caracas.

"Everyone who attacks Venezuela ends up losing; the Summit of the Americas has been a complete failure," said Maduro, whose invitation to the April 13-14 conference was rescinded by Peru's former president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. Kuczynski was later forced to resign amid a sprawling corruption scandal.

"I was seeing reports of some empty speeches by right-wing, unpopular, murderous, imperialist lackey presidents," Maduro said during his Saturday speech. "It's shameful seeing those presidents, hated by their peoples, speak about Venezuela's noble people."

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