Many Latin American leaders were no-shows at the opening of the 23rd Ibero-American summit in Panama, revealing the foundering direction of the annual forum, AFP reports.
The event was to run through Saturday in Panama City, with a dozen or so leaders from Spain, Portugal and their former colonies in the Americas set to discuss major reforms to the organization.
But among those missing were leaders from most of the more powerful countries in South America, including Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro, Chile's Sebastian Pinera, and Argentina's Cristina Kirchner.
Also missing, for the first time since the group first met in 1991, was Spain's King Juan Carlos, who is still recovering from hip surgery.
Of the 22 heads of state or government that make up Iberoamerica -- Latin America, Spain and Portugal -- 11 confirmed they will attend Saturday, and only six were present as it opened Friday night.
"This is the summit of change and transformation," Enrique Iglesias, secretary general of the forum's permanent secretariat, said as he opened the meeting.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said that after 22 years of summits the forum needed "a new direction and renewal to adapt to the changes that have taken place in our countries and on the international stage."
On Friday, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto convened a meeting on the sidelines of the summit with Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli to celebrate what they say is the imminent signing of a Pacific Alliance free-trade agreement.
The meeting was planned to include Ecuador and Peru's presidents, but by mid-afternoon neither had arrived in Panama -- they sent ministers in their stead.
On Monday, Bolivian President Evo Morales who also unexpectedly cancelled his attendance at the last minute, said "times are changing. I don't know if in the future this summit will continue to be important."
Morales's communication minister said the president couldn't make it to Panama because of "his heavy work schedule."
Dubbed "The Ibero-American community in the new Global Context," the summit this year aims to reshape the group to a growing and increasingly independent Latin America, as Spain, in particular, grapples with financial woes.
Panama Foreign Minister Fernando Nunez said it is necessary "to revitalize and change" the Ibero-American system.
"Economic growth and investment opportunities are in Latin America, in Ibero-American America, not in Europe. That's in the past," he said.
In part, the initiative proposes to change the financing of the meeting so that Latin America pays 40 percent of the costs, up from 30 percent previously.
The reforms also propose reducing the annual meeting to every two years, after next year's summit in Veracruz, Mexico.
"We must modernize, seek ways to simplify, become more agile, (and) to try to energize fields like education, micro- and small-businesses. That is to say, to look for elements that have to do with what's needed in Latin America today," said Iglesias.
But in another sign of the changes ahead for the organization, Iglesias, a Spanish-Uruguayan who has run the group to accolades since 2005, will be stepping down in January.