US President Donald Trump will attend the upcoming Summit of the Americas, officials said Friday, putting him face to face with Western Hemisphere leaders, many of whom are upset by his policies and rhetoric toward the region.
The regional summit next month in Perú is the leading forum for projecting US leadership in Latin America and the Caribbean. US presidents have participated in all seven previous gatherings, but with Trump's anti-immigrant statements, proposal to build a wall on the Mexican border and stance on trade stirring anger throughout the region, many wondered if he would attend.
"There will be some very uncomfortable meetings there," said Christopher Sabatini, a lecturer in international relations at Columbia University.
A high-ranking Peruvian official confirmed Trump's visit to Lima for the summit. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders later said Trump will visit Colombia after Perú.
In recent years, US leaders have faced sharp rebukes from leftist Latin Americans at the periodic gathering and this year's event is likely to be no different. But the upcoming summit is also generating controversy because of a leader at the other end of the political spectrum: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
Peruvian leaders have repeatedly said Maduro isn't invited to attend as international criticism grows over Venezuela's human rights record and the nation's increasingly autocratic government. But Maduro recently said he is determined to attend, "rain, shine or lightning."
"By air, land or sea - I will get to the Summit of the Americas to tell the truth of this country," he vowed at a news conference for international journalists.
Mercedes Araoz, the chief of Perú's Cabinet of Ministers, later quipped back that Maduro cannot come by "land nor Peruvian airspace because he is not welcome."
Perú and the United States have emerged as two of the most outspoken nations in voicing their objections to Maduro's rule as Venezuela struggles with hyperinflation, food and medical shortages, and a growing exodus of its citizens fleeing to other parts of the region. Both have also criticised snap presidential elections being held in April that key opposition leaders are boycotting.
Peruvian Foreign Minister Cayetana Aljovin reiterated Friday that Maduro is not invited, saying only presidents committed to "governability, democracy and fighting corruption" can attend.
"There's a real risk of a very undiplomatic showdown that could occur," Sabatini said of the ongoing squabble with Maduro. "He's already been disinvited. It would be strange, odd to have him re-invited. And if he should just show up, can Perú deny him entry?"
Former US President Bill Clinton first invited all hemispheric leaders except Cuba's Fidel Castro to gather in Miami in 1994 to promote a free trade zone ranging from Alaska to the tip of South America. US leaders have gotten an earful from their Latin American counterparts in more recent years.
Protesters led by football legend Diego Maradona burned an effigy of President George W. Bush to protest the US-led invasion of Iraq at the 2005 summit in Argentina. Four years later, the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez famously gave then President Barack Obama a copy of a classic leftist book, "The Open Veins of Latin America," detailing the history of US military interventions in the region.
The theme of this year's summit is "democratic governance against corruption," a topic that has embroiled nearly every country in the region. Perú's own president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, was nearly impeached in December after an opposition-led investigation revealed his private consulting firm had received payments from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht over a decade before.
Odebrecht admitted in a 2016 US Justice Department agreement to paying nearly $800 million in kickbacks to politicians, their campaigns and political parties to secure lucrative public works contracts.
Sabatini said it was a "positive" development that Trump would have face-to-face meetings with regional leaders, but added there are a range of topics likely to be raised that may make the US president uncomfortable. Aside from immigration and the México border wall, his administration's partial rollback of Obama's Cuba policy and new, steep tariffs he recently ordered against steel and aluminium imports to the US are almost certain to come up in the discussions.
"There are a lot of open questions and a lot of points of friction," Sabatini said.