Summit of Americas: Did Biden’s snub to Venezuela prompt a last-minute trip to Turkey?
If you can’t get an invitation to the biggest party in town, act like you’re too busy to care.
As US President Joe Biden greets more than 20 Western Hemisphere leaders in Los Angeles, one of those excluded from the California gathering is holding his own high-level talks on the other side of the globe: Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro has hastily flown to Ankara to meet with his Turkey counterpart.
The Summit of the Americas, a triennial gathering of regional leaders from Alaska to Patagonia that the US is hosting for the first time since 1994, is the Biden’s administration strongest effort to push the US agenda in the Western Hemisphere. But the organization of the summit has been far from perfect.
Leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela were excluded from the meeting because of their autocratic governments and poor human rights records – prompting leaders of several other countries to boycott the Summit in solidarity. In the most notable defection, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador sent lower-ranking officials in his stead.
Cuba, which had been invited to previous summits in 2018 and 2015 and expected to be invited this year too, called its exclusion “undemocratic.”
Maduro also criticized the decision but went a step further by calling on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – a visit that seems to have been organized at the last minute. Under Venezuelan law, the head of state must receive an authorization from congress to travel abroad on official visits. The Maduro-controlled National Assembly confirmed the authorization on Tuesday evening – an hour after the presidential plane had already landed in Ankara.
The main point of the visit was clear from the beginning: Maduro is sending a message that regardless of the US exclusion, there will always be people ready to receive him around the world. “Today I’ll have a busy agenda of meetings with the brother President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. […] Venezuela’s voice is heard around the world,” Maduro tweeted on Wednesday morning.
Though Turkey is a NATO member and US ally, it has also been a friend to the Venezuelan strongman. Turkey has been a purchaser of Venezuela’s gold – some of it tainted with allegations of human rights abuse – since at least 2018, and Maduro and Erdogan have visited each other multiple times over the last few years.
Maduro’s visit also allows Erdogan to send a message that his country is independent and gets to make the foreign policy decisions it wants.
Conveniently, Russia also appears to be in the mix – on the same day Maduro landed in Turkey, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov happened to be in Ankara. The Venezuelan President has been a staunch supporter of Russia’s war in Ukraine, even as Washington considered allowing its oil back on the global market to replace Russia’s.
While there’s been no official statement on whether the two sides met in Ankara, you can bet the coincidence wasn’t lost on Washington.