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Iberoamerican Summit loses earlier gloss with 8 Latin American leaders sending regrets

Just 14 of Latin America's 22 presidents are expected at this weekend's Iberoamerican Summit in Panama, taking some of the gloss off a once high-profile event.

Foreign ministers or other officials will represent the top leaders not attending as the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries consider cooperation projects and whether to hold the summits every two years rather than annually.

They will also talk about whether Latin American countries should pay more of the costs of the 23-year-old event, much of which traditionally was paid for by Spain and Portugal.

The Iberoamerican Summit was once an international stage for Latin American leaders such as former Cuban President Fidel Castro to draw attention to their projects and political views.

But Michael Shifter of the Washington think tank Interamerican Dialogue says the gathering now seems more important for Spain as it seeks new markets in the Western Hemisphere amid Europe's economic crisis. The gathering of heads of state and government opens Friday night, with sessions and a final declaration Saturday. Lower level sessions were held Thursday.

Argentine President Cristiana Fernandez isn't going because she's recovering from head surgery. Also not attending for various reasons are: Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, Sebastian Pinera of Chile, Raul Castro of Cuba, Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela and the leaders of Guatemala, Ecuador and Uruguay.

Prince Felipe and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy are representing Spain because King Juan Carlos is recovering from hip surgery. Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva has confirmed he will attend.

Several regional issues may emerge during the sessions, including the ongoing dispute among Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Colombia over maritime limits and land-locked Bolivia's longstanding demand that Chile negotiate sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean.