Security strengthened for Latin summit in Peru
Leaders' meeting starts today
BY JANE BUSSEY
LIMA, Peru -- Intent on distancing this Ibero-American Summit from the security breaches that marked past meetings, hundreds of police, military and special forces patrolled the streets of the Peruvian capital Thursday as leaders from 23 countries gathered to discuss shared problems and regional solutions.
The annual ritual for heads of state and government from Latin America, Spain and Portugal -- an event that began in 1991 in Guadalajara, Mexico -- starts today and will mark a change of tone that organizers promise will be long on frank talk and short on ceremony.
The public and nearly 1,000 members of the media are barred from the closed-door meetings that are supposed to spark discussion and discourage lengthy speeches in an attempt to produce advances before the meeting closes Saturday.
The summit, entitled ``United to build our tomorrow,'' will follow previous formats and deliver the Lima Declaration at the end. Highlighting current priorities, the leaders will also issue ``two specific political declarations about the two main areas of the international crisis: international terrorism and security and the economic crisis,'' Peruvian Foreign Minister Diego García Sayán said.
But even before diplomacy begins, top priority are the security concerns surrounding any high-profile meeting post-Sept. 11, as well as the expected arrival of Cuban President Fidel Castro. Although Castro is pictured in Lima dailies alongside the other expected heads of state and government, details surrounding his arrival are murky, one of the tactics intended to thwart any attempts on his life.
Castro has charged that he was the target of assassination attempts in past summits held in Cartagena, Colombia, in 1994 and on Venezuela's Margarita Island in 1997. In Panama City last November, security agents arrested Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles and three associates. Castro accused Posada, who admitted masterminding a wave of bombings in Havana in 1997, of plotting an attempt on his life.
From the heavily guarded Lima airport, where the leaders began arriving Wednesday, to coastal waters, where Navy warships were stationed in advance of dinner tonight at the Rosa Náutica restaurant, on the Pacific cliffs, authorities have stepped up security.
Traffic police, state security forces and military officers ring the quiet San Isidro neighborhood where the presidents, prime minister and King Juan Carlos of Spain will be staying and meeting. Rooftop sharpshooters were expected to be mobilized during the meeting. Uruguay and Honduras are sending vice presidents, but the rest of the leaders from the region, along with Spain and Portugal, are expected in Lima.
In one of the many subplots that will run through the meeting, Panama and Cuba have locked diplomatic horns recently over Posada. Panama has denied Cuban charges -- made in the United Nations -- that the Central American country is bowing to U.S. pressure to have a court release Posada and his associates. Panama has refused to extradite them to Cuba since the four men are being tried in Panama on conspiracy charges.
Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo also pointedly met with prominent Cuban exile Carlos Alberto Montaner on Tuesday and is expected to break protocol by giving renowned Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa -- noted for his anti-Castro stance -- an award during summit proceedings today.
As they have at past summits, Cuban exile groups have gathered in Lima to hold news conferences to voice their demands that the leaders press Castro on democratic reforms.