When President Trump announced this week that he won’t attend the Summit of the Americas in Peru on Friday and Saturday, a lot of Latin America watchers reacted with outrage.
An insult to our New World neighbors! A blown opportunity to mend hemispheric fences! We won’t get to see Donald and Melania not hold hands in historic Lima!
Sorry, folks – you should be popping champagne corks.
I’ve covered Summits of the Americas since the first was held here in Miami a quarter century ago. Believe me: Donald Trump not attending the Summit of the Americas is the best thing that ever happened to the Summit of the Americas.
But it’s even better than that. Not only will Trump not be there; Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has been barred from attending.
Meaning – hallelujah! – a Summit of the Americas without Donald Trump and Nicolás Maduro. My message to the western hemisphere’s other heads of state who’ll be in Lima this weekend is the one Tom Hanks whispered to Matt Damon at the end of “Saving Private Ryan”:
Earn this good fortune, Señores Presidentes. With Donny and Nicky out of the picture, you can make this a more productive, meaningful summit. While Trump and Maduro sit at home in the 20th century, you can push the Americas a bit further into the 21st.
Trump and Maduro embody the foul, throwback impulses that have plagued and polarized inter-American relations ever since the western hemisphere won its independence from Europe. Why would we want them prowling the western hemisphere's most important diplomatic gathering?
Trump has only one agenda regarding Latin America and the Caribbean. He wants to scapegoat what he calls a “shithole” region and its “rapist” citizens for every economic and social woe his right-wing/white-wing U.S. supporters elected him to avenge. In Trump World, Latin American trade deals, immigration and drugs are responsible for their stagnant wages, shrinking ethnic dominance and the opioid crisis ravaging their communities.
Maduro has only one retro rabbit in his top hat. That is, blaming the U.S. for every Latin American sorrow – including the deadly economic catastrophe his dimwitted and dictatorial socialist revolution has brought Venezuela, leaving the oil-rich nation on the brink of starvation. On Planet Maduro, yanqui imperialism – not loony leftism – is the culprit behind Venezuela’s harrowing medicine shortages, its collapsed oil industry and the more than 100 regime opponents sitting in jail.
But it’s not just their vulgar, authoritarian populism that would make Trump and Maduro such toxic presences at the summit. Their roadshows would also undermine its marquee theme: fighting corruption.
That means promoting transparent, institutional democratic governance – a goal Latin America has gotten more serious about in this century, especially as countries like Brazil start putting powerful politicos behind bars for the first time in their histories. (Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva went to prison last weekend.)
Nothing could distract more obnoxiously from that summit project than to have Trump and Maduro on hand. Corruption is a byword of their administrations – whether it’s the Russia investigation, porn star payoffs and myriad ethics probes hanging over Trump’s; or the epic oil-wealth embezzlement, narco-state criminality and food-for-votes schemes that brand Maduro’s.
And just as corrosive as their pop-your-eyes venality is their in-your-face mockery of constitutional values.
Trump has called for tougher U.S. libel laws when someone hurts his feelings; demonized media when they expose him and threatened to fire special prosecutors when they haunt him; and labeled opponents treasonous when they don’t clap during his speeches. Maduro, admittedly worse, has beaten his legislative and judicial branches into lap dogs, unleashed paramilitary goons on opposition leaders – and is holding a snap presidential election next month that’s rigged so heavily in his favor most of the world has already dismissed the results.
Granted, the hemisphere has other bad apple leaders. But they won't hijack the Lima summit in the same darkly narcissistic way Trump and Maduro would have. Others argue that attending the goodwill gathering might shame the two of them into cleaning up their acts. But you can’t shame men as shameless as Donald and Nicolás.
So don’t bemoan their absence. As citizens of the Americas, let’s celebrate it.
Let’s earn it.