It was left up to Ivanka Trump and US Vice President Mike Pence to step in and fill in for US President Donald Trump’s absence yesterday at the Summit of the Americas.
But even with those two, the no-show of Trump dimmed the international media attention directed at the Friday-Saturday event in Lima, Peru
Instead of the potentially explosive sight of Trump at the centre of a group of leaders from several countries he has disparaged or intimidated over perceived trade or migration threats, or awaiting his potentially offensive tweets, the once-every-three-year summit has been left to tackle festering regional issues.
Those include a joint response further isolating Venezuela over its moves seen trampling democracy, and whose President Nicolás Maduro has explicitly been not invited. President Mauricio Macri was expected to use his speech at the event to severely criticise the Venezuelan government.
Also on the table was expected to be the worsening relationship between the United States and Mexico over a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on the table, alongisde US President Trump’s insistence that Mexico pay for a wall to be built along their common border – and to where he has ordered US National Guard troops to deploy. Mexico has already announced it is reviewing its cooperation with the US over “blatant” tension with Trump’s administration.
And there is the issue of corruption, the persistence of which – and the moves to tackle it – has roiled Latin American politics, including in Brazil, where expresident Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is now jailed, and Peru itself, which has seen its president step down just ahead of hosting the summit.
At a Washington briefing to reporters on Wednesday, Ivanka Trump and senior US administration officials insisted that Trump’s absence was not a snub or sign of disinterest in Latin America, despite the widely held view that the US president cares little for those outside his own country.
The president had to cancel “given the atrocity that occurred in Syria,” which required him to be “engaged in on that topic and related topics,” one US official said without elaborating or commenting on the Trump’s apparent rollback on imminent missile strikes
Instead US officials reiterated how a “very high-level delegation” would still be representing the US, the officials said.
They listed Ivanka Trump and Pence along with top US officials for trade, foreign aid and investment. Ivanka’s husband Jared Kushner – who, like her, is a senior advisor to the president – also flew to Peru later on Friday with Pence.
“I’m extremely excited for my visit,” Ivanka Trump said in a briefing pre-departure, explaining that she would be promoting ways to economically empower women while at the summit.
“Women’s economic empowerment in the Americas is a key element of the president’s commitment to advance our shared goals and objectives in the hemisphere,” a senior administration official added.
Speaking yesterday in Peru, Ivanka Trump unveiled a private-public funding plan to boost businesses started by women in Latin America. She said the plan called for US$150 million in seed money that would be multiplied three times through private sector contributions.
The funds would help women gain “access to capital, work and opportunities,” she said at a pre-summit business event attended by dozens of Peruvian women entrepreneurs.
Ivanka Trump has sought to promote women’s empowerment from her perch at her father’s White House. She also has her own self-branded fashion line.
Nonetheless, the main focus was on Trump Senior, despite his snub. Some Latin American analysts looked askance at Trump’s absence.
“For Trump, Latin America, with the possible exception of Mexico, is at the level of his vice president,” said Kevin Casas, a former Costa Rican vice-president who is now director of the consulting firm Analitica Consultures.
“That’s a message everybody has more or less picked up and how the region will read it. Including China,” he said.