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Americas' leaders vow to stem corruption, confront Venezuela

Americas' leaders vow to stem corruption, confront Venezuela
Vice President Mike Pence, right, meets with Mexico's President Enrique Peña Nieto at the Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru, on Saturday. (Karel Navarro / Associated Press)

Leaders from throughout the Americas vowed Saturday to confront systemic corruption with an accord aimed at improving transparency and boosting civil society at a time when graft scandals plague many of their own governments.

Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra kicked off the Summit of the Americas' first full session asking the Western Hemisphere leaders to approve 57 action points he said would constitute a base for preventing corruption.

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The "Lima Commitment: Democratic Governance Against Corruption" was approved with a round of applause, though analysts are skeptical that it will lead to any tangible change. Many of the heads of state present lead administrations that face allegations of misusing public funds, obstructing justice and accepting bribes.

But as leaders launched into speeches promising to tackle corruption — the theme of this year's summit — turmoil elsewhere threatened to overshadow any concerted effort to root out the deep-seated scourge.

Numerous leaders expressed concerns about an apparent chemical weapons attack in Syria and voiced support for military airstrikes there by the U.S., France and Britain. They also called on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to accept humanitarian aid as his nation confronts a crippling economic crisis and urged those gathered not to accept the results of an upcoming presidential election in the embattled South American nation.

Bolivian President Evo Morales was one of the few voices of support for Venezuela, calling on the U.S. to drop sanctions against his ally.

"Our region isn't the backyard of anybody," he said, echoing Maduro's comments earlier in the week after President Trump decided to skip the summit, which some considered a snub to the region.

This year's summit is one of the least attended in recent memory, raising questions about the future of the regional gathering started in 1994 by President Clinton.

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

Trump bailed on this year's summit with a few days' notice, scrapping what would have been his first visit to Latin America as president, in order to manage the U.S. response to the attack on civilians in Syria. At least seven other presidents are not participating, some in apparent acts of solidarity with Venezuela, whose invitation was withdrawn, and others who were tending to domestic matters at home.

In addition to the large roster of no-shows, presidents in attendance from three of Latin America's most populous nations are slated to leave office within the next 12 months, making this year's summit less impactful.

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