LIMA, PERU — It was not too long ago that Latin American leaders used to relish any chance to bash the imperialists up north. With a target like President Trump, who has regularly offended and insulted the countries to his south, the Summit of the Americas on Saturday seemed a ripe venue for venom.
But in the past few years, the region has become more conservative — and more concerned about the crisis in Venezuela — so the latest gathering of hemispheric leaders was, for long stretches, rather polite. Hardly anyone even mentioned Trump by name.
Vice President Pence’s two main messages — urging world support for the U.S.-led missile strikes in Syria and for the isolation of President Nicolás Maduro’s government in Venezuela — were even seconded by several of the leading countries in Latin America.
“Colombia has always condemned and will always condemn the use of chemical weapons,” Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said. “We support the actions to punish their use and to look for their total elimination.”
Without the presence of Maduro, who was not invited to the summit, and with several other leaders choosing not to attend, among them Cuban President Raúl Castro, the most visceral repudiation of the Trump administration came from Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, who spoke twice, and emphatically, against the United States, making the thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations during the Obama administration seem like a distant spring.
Rodríguez said Cuba’s government “energetically rejects the attack perpetrated by the United States” in Syria, an action he described as a “flagrant violation of the principles of international law.”
Rodríguez added several other shots about the United States, describing it as a country “where students die by firearms, sacrificed to the imperative of a political lobby,” and where “they promote walls, militarization of borders, massive deportations, including children who were born in their own territory.”
Pence, who attended the summit in Trump’s absence and was among the last to speak, dismissed Cuba as a “tired communist regime” and focused his energy on Venezuela, where, he said, the “tragedy of tyranny is on full display.”
“The responsibility for the Venezuelan people’s suffering can be laid at the feet of one man: Nicolás Maduro,” Pence said.
Pence highlighted an additional $16 million in U.S. funding to help Venezuelans who have fled to neighboring countries but did not offer specific plans for further action against Maduro’s government. While Cuba, Bolivia and some smaller Caribbean nations criticized Maduro’s not being invited to the summit, several South American leaders joined in the censure of Maduro’s administration. They said that an upcoming election in Venezuela — which the opposition coalition is boycotting — will be a sham and that Maduro should open his country to international help.
“We have to redouble our efforts,” said Argentine President Mauricio Macri, “so the government of Venezuela stops denying reality and accepts regional collaboration and international help that would allow them to overcome this humanitarian crisis that has become unsustainable.”
Several U.S. allies voiced support for the missile strikes and condemned the use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad’s government, but there also were warnings against further escalation in the situation.
“Canada stands with our friends in this necessary response, and we condemn in the strongest possible terms the use of chemical weapons in last week’s attack,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, referring to a suspected attack near Damascus that prompted the U.S.-led strikes in Syria.
Chilean President Sebastián Piñera criticized the “inability of the international community” to find effective ways to “stop the use of chemical weapons against human beings.”
Bolivian President Evo Morales, a longtime critic of the United States, joined Cuba in its criticism of U.S. policy in the region, including of the pressure on Venezuela, an ally of Bolivia’s.
“It has to be said with complete clarity, the principal threat against democracy, against peace, against freedom, against Mother Earth, and against multilateralism, is the government of the United States,” Morales said. “I don’t have fear saying it out loud and publicly.”
Pence spent the morning meeting with several leaders, including President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico. They both ignored reporters’ shouted questions about the wall proposed for the U.S.-Mexico border and who would pay for it. Peña Nieto has canceled two trips to Washington during Trump’s tenure over disputes about the border wall and how the two would talk about it.
Relations between the United States and Mexico have grown increasingly fraught because of Trump’s accusations that Mexico has not done enough to prevent illegal immigration from Central America, his insistence that Mexico pay for the wall and his allegations that Mexico has taken advantage of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
On Saturday morning, Peña Nieto said he was meeting with Pence “not only to talk about NAFTA but to talk about the bilateral relationship we want to have of cooperation and mutual respect.”
As Pence met with Trudeau, he struck an optimistic tone on the possibility of an agreement on an updated NAFTA.
“We think we’re close,” Pence said. “We are encouraged with the progress of our negotiations, and we are hopeful that we can conclude a successful renegotiation.”
The official theme of this year’s summit is the fight against corruption, a campaign that has led to the ouster and arrest of political leaders across the region. Several presidents spoke of how corruption had undermined democracies, acted as a drag on economies and sapped public confidence in authorities.
Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra, the summit’s host, urged the region to have a “zero tolerance” policy on corruption. Vizcarra recently took office, replacing Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who resigned after being accused of lying about receiving payments from the Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht and of alleged vote buying.