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Low turnout at lavish Venezuela summit

September 18, 2016

Fewer than a dozen world leaders have made an appearance at a meeting of a large Cold War-era bloc in Venezuela. The cash-strapped country has spent more than $120 million to prepare for the event.

Venezuela NAM Gipfel
Image: picture-alliance/Zuma Press/Xinhua/B. Vergara

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro touted the latest meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), a large Cold War-era bloc, as one that would be remembered for centuries to come.

The cash-strapped state reportedly spent more than $120 million (107 million euros) in preparation for the summit, despite much of the country suffering from major food shortages and inflation soaring into the triple digits.

However, the meetings have been marred by demonstrations and a very low turnout of foreign dignitaries.

The previous summit held in Iran in 2012 was attended by 35 heads of state from the 120-nation bloc. However, only eight heads of state confirmed their attendance for this year's summit on the island of Margarita.

Among the leaders that did attend were Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, Iran's Hassan Rouhani and Palestine's Mahmoud Abbas. Heads of state from Venezuela's regional allies Cuba, Ecuador and Bolivia also attended the summit.

One notable absentee was Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This is only the second time in 55 years that the country's head of state has missed the summit.

Ahead of the event, work crews repainted roads and stocked shelves on the island, while 14,000 security personnel were hired to beef up security. Yet despite the efforts, delegates complained about a lack of organization, delays and shabby hotels, according to Reuters.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles jumped on the low attendance figures, pointing out that it signaled Maduro's increasing isolation. "Millions of dollars of Venezuelans' money spent for the government's ego," he said. "Many of the countries didn't come to the show!"

Maduro's opponents are pushing for a recall referendum to oust Maduro from office before his term ends in 2019.

Popularity hanging by a thread

Venezuela Protests
Anti-Maduro protestors took to the streets of Venezuela on FridayImage: Reuters/H. Romero

Two weeks ago, Maduro experienced one of the most humiliating episodes of his three-year presidency on Margarita Island.

Planning to walk through crowds of supporters, Maduro was instead chased by scores of protesters banging pots and pans. A video of the protest went viral, but the journalist who filmed and posted it has since been arrested.

Speaking anonymously, residents said anger directed at Maduro is running increasingly deep. The government spent lavishly ahead of the summit despite a hard-hitting economic crisis. Rationing means most of the population is forced to skip meals.

Margarita serves as a parable for Venezuela's economic and social problems. The island was once a popular luxury tourist destination for visitors from around world. Today it suffers from many of the same problems affecting the rest of Venezuela: basic food shortages, long lines outside of shops and violent crime.

dm/cmk (Reuters, AP)