LIMA, Peru (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Monday that it's too early to know if President Donald Trump will attend a regional summit seen as the premier forum for projecting U.S. leadership in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Speaking to journalists in Peru, Tillerson said Trump's attendance at the Summit of Americas would depend on his schedule, which typically isn't known so far in advance.
"There's been no final decision made," said Tillerson.
U.S. presidents have participated in all seven previous editions of the summit since President Bill Clinton invited all hemispheric leaders except Cuba's Fidel Castro to Miami in 1994 to promote a free trade zone stretching from Alaska to the tip of South America.
But with the idea of the U.S.-led trade pact long dead, the event has devolved into an opportunity for leftist Latin Americans to air grievances against the United States.
At the 2005 summit in Argentina, protesters led by soccer legend Diego Maradona burned an effigy of President George W. Bush to protest the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Four years later it was President Barack Obama's turn to get an earful from the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, who gave him a copy of a classic leftist book, "The Open Veins of Latin America," detailing the history of U.S. military interventions in the region.
Similar protests are expected during this year's meeting in Peru, with Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric, stance on trade and proposal to build a wall on the Mexican border fueling anger in the region.
However, he may not be the only prominent leader considering skipping. At the other end of the ideological spectrum, speculation has been mounting that Venezuela's socialist leader, Nicolas Maduro, might not attend, or even be barred altogether.
Standing alongside Tillerson, Peruvian Foreign Minister Cayetana Aljovin was coy when asked whether Maduro could be excluded from the event, saying her government only recently sent out invitations to all of the region's heads of state, including Maduro.
"We haven't been able to make a decision because we haven't received a formal answer yet," she said.
U.S. officials have said they won't object to Maduro's presence at the summit because it would give him a chance to hear from regional leaders critical of his authoritarian path.
Tillerson's stop in Peru was his third in a five-nation tour of the region that has been dominated by concerns about growing political and economic chaos in Venezuela.
On Sunday, Tillerson said in Argentina that the U.S. is considering restricting oil sales from Venezuela in a bid to force Maduro to hold free and fair elections.
His comments drew a sharp rebuke Monday from Maduro, who said the top U.S. diplomat was acting like the "president of Exxon," a reference to Tillerson's previous job as head of the world's largest energy company. In 2017, Exxon lost a $1.4 billion arbitration case against Venezuela over Chavez's nationalization of its oil assets in the country.
"We want the best relations possible with the U.S. but if they insist on their aggression, hatred and racism against Venezuela, our ships will sail elsewhere," Maduro said. "Nobody blockades Venezuela."