LIMA, Peru—Vice President Mike Pence blasted Cuba, calling it “a tired communist regime,” at the Summit of the Americas on April 14. He accused Cuba’s dictators of “exporting their failed ideology” across the region and supporting the dictatorship in Venezuela.
Standing in for President Donald Trump at the Lima summit, Pence called on regional leaders to stand with the people suffering in Venezuela and to isolate the ruling Maduro regime.
“In Venezuela, as in Cuba, the tragedy of tyranny is on full display,” he said.
Pence walked out of the session when Cuba’s foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez Parilla, was recognized to offer a rebuttal.
The Summit of the Americas is held every three years. Thirty-three out of 35 countries in the Western Hemisphere attended the eighth summit this year on April 13 and 14.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was barred from attending the summit. Maduro earlier insisted that he would appear at the summit anyway. However, he announced later that he would not attend the meeting, calling it “a waste of time.” His announcement came right after Trump canceled his trip to Latin America.
“The Summit of the Americas has been a complete failure,” Maduro said on April 14.
Trump, who had planned to attend the Summit of the Americas, called off his visit a few days before the meeting after choosing to stay in Washington to oversee the American response to chemical attacks by the Assad regime in Syria.
Leaders of the Americas Condemn Syria
At the summit, leaders from North and South America decried the use of chemical weapons by Syria.
All countries, except Bolivia, Cuba, and the absent Venezuela, condemned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and urged him to stop chemical attacks on his citizens.
Pence also briefed leaders on the April 13 military action in Syria.
“I’m pleased to report that the strike by the United States, UK, and French forces was effective, overwhelming, and successful,” he said.
He criticized Russia for “deliberately spreading disinformation about Assad’s heinous actions.”
Countries including Canada and Colombia expressed support for the U.S.-led airstrike on Syria. Bolivia and Cuba condemned the United States and its allies. Argentina, Brazil, and Peru voiced concerns about escalating problems in the Middle East.
The formal theme of this year’s summit was “Democratic Governance Against Corruption.”
During the summit, all leaders pledged to confront systemic corruption, at a time when a wave of corruption scandals has been sweeping through their governments.
Host country Peru was the latest to be rocked by a bribery scandal linked to Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht that has shaken some major countries in Latin America. Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned over his role in the scandal a few weeks before the summit. His vice president, Martín Vizcarra, who took power last month, hosted the summit.
In addition, the leaders also raised concerns about the mass immigration of Venezuelans into neighboring countries as the political and economic crisis in the country deepens.
Colombia faces a massive influx of refugees. More than half a million Venezuelans have fled to Colombia, mostly in the last two years.
The United States provided $2.5 million aid for Venezuelans living in Colombia last month. And during the summit, Pence announced an additional $16 million in assistance to support Colombia’s efforts.
The members also condemned the murder of two Ecuadorean journalists and their driver by Colombian drug traffickers.
Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno had to return to his country early from the summit to deal with the crisis.
Reporter Javier Ortega, photographer Paul Rivas, and driver Efrain Segarra were on assignment on the border between Ecuador and Colombia for Ecuador’s El Comercio newspaper when they were taken hostage by former fighters from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) last month. Moreno confirmed the deaths of the hostages on April 13.
More than a thousand FARC fighters refused to demobilize under last year’s peace deal with Colombia and instead joined dissident drug-trafficking groups.
Leaders expressed their solidarity with the Ecuadorian president and vowed to fight criminal gangs and drug traffickers.
The New US Initiative
As part of the U.S. delegation, White House senior adviser and first daughter Ivanka Trump also participated in the summit and announced the beginning of a new initiative by the Trump administration to promote women’s empowerment in the region.
The new U.S. initiative will commit $150 million and mobilize a total of $500 million to provide access to capital and economic opportunities for women entrepreneurs throughout Latin America.
Pence also expressed America’s wish to host the next summit.
“We will be submitting a bid to host the Ninth Summit of the Americas three years from now in 2021,” he said.