Leaders at Summit of Americas Vow to Cleanse Corrupt Systems

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by CHRISTINE ARMARIO / The Associated Press.

LIMA, Peru—Leaders from throughout the Americas vowed Saturday to confront systemic corruption at a time when graft scandals plague many of their own governments but they made relatively little progress in determining a regional response to Venezuela’s mounting humanitarian crisis.

Sixteen of the 33 nations gathered for the eighth Summit of the Americas issued a statement on the sidelines of the event in Peru calling on Venezuela to hold free and transparent elections and allow international aid to the enter the beleaguered nation.

But the joint statement from mostly conservative-run countries didn’t vary significantly from previous declarations or promise any additional money to help neighboring countries respond to a mounting migration crisis aside from the nearly $16 million pledged by the U.S. Friday.

“I don’t see any progress there,” said Richard Feinberg, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who helped organize the first Summit of Americas in 1994.

Though the theme of this year’s gathering of Western Hemisphere leaders was battling corruption, many leaders used the platform to voice their concerns on Venezuela as President Nicolas Maduro proceeds with plans to hold a presidential election that many foreign government consider a sham. Still, there were a handful of Venezuelan allies present including Cuba and Bolivia and the sole joint declaration adopted at the summit was a region-wide commitment to root out corruption.

The “Lima Commitment: Democratic Governance Against Corruption” includes 57 action points that Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra said would constitute a base for preventing corruption. Analysts are skeptical that it will lead to any tangible change. Many heads of state in attendance lead administrations that face allegations of misusing public funds, obstructing justice and accepting bribes.

“The hard part will come when leaders return home,” said Shannon O’Neil, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank. “These initiatives will take much time and effort to implement, and will in many places face significant push back.”

This year’s summit was one of the least attended yet, raising questions about the future of the regional gathering started in 1994 by then-U.S. President Bill Clinton. U.S. leader Donald Trump canceled what would have been his first trip as president to Latin American in order to manage the U.S. response to an apparent chemical weapons attack in Syria. More than a half-dozen other regional presidents followed suit, some in apparent acts of solidarity with Maduro, whose invitation was withdrawn.

Vice President Mike Pence said Saturday that the U.S. would submit a bid to host the next summit in 2021 in an apparent act to quell doubts about the nation’s commitment to the region.

The summit’s initial goal was to promote representative democracy and free trade in the Americas, but in recent years both topics have been testy subjects. Instead it has become a stage for awkward encounters between left-leaning leaders and their more conservative counterparts.

Some of that discord was on display at Saturday’s plenary session, when Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez chastised Pence as “ignoring reality.”

“I reject these insulting references to Cuba and Venezuela,” he said after Pence assailed Maduro as being responsible for Venezuela’s deepening crisis.

Pence, who filled in for Trump, spent part of the summit trying to drum up support for further isolating Venezuela, which faces mounting U.S. sanctions. In a forceful speech he said the U.S. would not “stand idly by while Venezuela crumbles,” but didn’t announce any new measures.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said that even without a formal declaration on behalf of the summit with an action plan for addressing Venezuela, he nonetheless felt the 16 nations who did sign on represent an important majority in terms of population size and economic might.

“We should do as much as we can together with our partners in the region,” he said.

Absent Trump and stalled on Venezuela, perhaps the most notable progress made was on the subject of corruption, a topic the Summit of the Americas first tackled at the initial 1994 gathering. That event led to the ratification of the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption two years later.

Leaders including Vizcarra lamented that two decades later corruption remains just as entrenched if not more so in many public institutions throughout the region.

“That pledge wasn’t achieved,” Vizcarra said in his opening remarks Friday.

Feinberg said the new declaration against corruption is an important step forward, including timely updates aimed at helping improve transparency in the digital age. But he also pointed out that it doesn’t include any new resources for fighting corruption or sanctions for those who don’t comply.

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Peru’s President Offers Resignation Amid Political Turmoil

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by FRANKLIN BRICENO and JOSHUA GOODMAN / The Associated Press.

LIMA, Peru — Embattled President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has offered his resignation to Peru’s congress ahead of a scheduled vote on whether to impeach the former Wall Street investor on corruption charges, according to a presidential aide.

Kuczynski announced his decision in a televised address to the nation.

If congress accepts the resignation, power would transfer to Vice President Martin Vizcarra, who is serving as Peru’s ambassador to Canada.

Pressure has been building on Kuczynski to resign after the shock revelation Tuesday of secretly-shot videos in which several of the president’s allies were caught allegedly trying to buy the support of a lawmaker to block the conservative leader’s impeachment.

The videos deepened a bitter political crisis playing out just three weeks before U.S. President Donald Trump is scheduled to visit Peru for a regional summit.

The videos presented by the main opposition party purportedly show attempts by Kuczynski’s lawyer, a government official, and the son of former strongman Alberto Fujimori, trying to convince the lawmaker to back the president in exchange for a hand in state contracts in his district.

Kenji Fujimori led a group of rebellious lawmakers in December who defied his sister Keiko’s leadership of the Popular Force party to narrowly block Kuczynski’s removal. Days later, Kuczynski pardoned the feuding siblings’ father from a 25-year jail sentence for human rights abuses committed during his decade-long presidency.

A new impeachment vote is scheduled to take place Thursday and Kuczynski had once again been scrambling for support — a task made harder by the release of the videos, which fueled calls from some of Kuczynski’s allies and members of his cabinet for the president to immediately resign.

“What we’ve seen in the videos is embarrassing,” Congressman Salvador Heresi, one of a handful belonging to Kuczynski’s party, said on Twitter, threatening to join the opposition and vote for impeachment if Kuczynski didn’t resign.

Keiko Fujimori, who has publicly distanced herself from her father, accused Kuczynski of orchestrating the alleged vote-buying scheme. On Twitter she regretted her younger brother’s appearance in one of the videos, which she said harkened back to “practices that have caused so much damage to Peru and our family.”

She was alluding to her father’s longtime spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, who was known to secretly record himself paying cash bribes to media moguls, military officers and politicians in efforts to gain leverage over potential rivals and boost his almost unlimited power.

The videos released Tuesday portray the president’s allies trying to lure lawmaker Moises Mamani to their side with promises of lucrative contracts.

In one exchange, Freddy Aragon, the head of the government agency regulating firearms, tells Mamani that he stands to pocket 5 percent of future public works projects authorized by the executive branch in his district. In another, Kuczynski’s lawyer hands the waffling lawmaker the transportation minister’s cell phone.

“Those who’ve voted in favor of impeachment have all the doors closed to them,” Kenji Fujimori tells Mamani in one of the recordings.

Following the release of the videos, the government fired Aragon, dismissing his apparent misconduct as that of a low-ranking official.

“The government doesn’t buy people in Congress. That’s impossible,” said Prime Minister Mercedes Araoz, adding that Kuczynski’s removal would be a humiliating blow for Peru’s international reputation as it prepares to host Trump and regional leaders for the Summit of the Americas. “It’s true that everyone knocks on our door, they call and they even send us messages about their pet projects. But that’s a common practice because they are representing their districts.”

Kenji Fujimori said the tapes had been heavily edited to obscure the truth, and lashed out at his sister for “acting like a delinquent” in allegedly ordering the recording of his private conversations.

Amid all of the political intrigue, Peru’s chief prosecutor said he would open a criminal probe into the videos.

Kuczynski is accused of lying as president about $782,000 in payments his consulting firm received a decade earlier from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.

Odebrecht is at the center of Latin America’s biggest graft scandal, having admitted to paying some $800 million in bribes to officials across Latin America, including $29 million to politicians in Peru.

The release of the videos came the same day as Kenji Fujimori announced he will start a new political party to compete in 2021 presidential elections.

Even the party’s name, Change 21, seemed destined to deepen the siblings’ split, harkening back to the elder Fujimori’s Change 90 campaign that in 1990 ushered the then-outsider into Peru’s top office.

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Goodman reported from Bogota, Colombia

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