Peru’s President set to talk tough to Trump during US visit

Lima, Peru (AP) - A U.S.-educated former Wall Street banker, the 78-year-old Kuczynski has emerged as an unlikely leader in Latin America, taking a strong stand against Trump’s “America First” agenda.

When Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski becomes the first Latin American leader to visit Donald Trump at the White House on Friday it will be a chance for the U.S. President to hear some straight talk about how his anti-trade and anti-immigrant rhetoric is alienating some of America’s closest allies.

A U.S.-educated former Wall Street banker, the 78-year-old Kuczynski has emerged as an unlikely leader in Latin America, taking a strong stand against Trump’s “America First” agenda while many in the region remain silent.

Mr. Kuczynski harshly criticised Mr. Trump during the U.S. presidential campaign, joking he would cut diplomatic relations with the U.S. “with a saw” if Mr. Trump followed through on his pledge to build a wall with Mexico, which he compared to the Berlin Wall. Leaders in the region, even staunch critics of the U.S. like Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, have largely avoided rallying to Mexico’s side for fear of jeopardizing their own relations with the Trump administration.

Despite such past criticism, it will be hard for Mr. Trump to dismiss Mr. Kuczynski’s advice, said Brian Winter, vice president of the regional group Council of Americas.

Mr. Kuczynski, who renounced U.S. citizenship to run for Peru’s presidency, speaks Mr. Trump’s language, not just flawless English but that of a successful businessman with deep influence in the power circles of New York, where he lived and worked for years.

“This is the positive side of the Latin American story that Trump may be unaware of,” said Mr. Winter. “Because of his biography, but also the success of Peru, Kuczynski may have more credibility than any other president in Latin America to talk straight to Trump.”

Peru is among a handful of South American nations with a free trade agreement with the U.S. and Mr. Kuczynski has not hid his admiration for the United States. But despite being ridiculed at home as a “gringo,” Mr. Kuczynski has said he worries the U.S. has been taking Latin America for granted. Not for nothing, his first trip abroad after taking office last July was to China.

One area where the two men are likely to see eye-to-eye is Venezuela.

Mr. Kuczynski has been outspoken criticizing Venezuela’s socialist government, calling for humanitarian aid to the country and giving visas to exiles.

The Obama administration was careful not to provoke Venezuela and become a scapegoat for the country’s economic mess. But within 30 days of taking office, Mr. Trump has already slapped sanctions on Venezuela’s Vice President for his alleged role in facilitating large cocaine shipments to the U.S., and met with the wife of the country’s most-prominent political prisoner. Mr. Trump and Mr. Kuczynski have already discussed Venezuela’s crisis by phone.

If Mr. Kuczynski manages to earn Mr. Trump’s respect, it could pay bilateral dividends. Earlier this month, Mr. Kuczysnki telephoned Mr. Trump to ask him to deport former President Alejandro Toledo, who is believed to be in the San Francisco area. Mr. Toledo faces an arrest order for allegedly taking $20 million in bribes from a Brazilian construction firm.

Jared Snow