The 23rd Ibero-American Summit began here Friday with the aim of adapting the summit mechanism to a new global context amid the notable absence of nearly a dozen heads of state.

Missing from the conference in Panama are nine presidents and Spain's King Juan Carlos, who has been at every summit since the first one, in 1991, but was unable to attend this time because he is recovering from a hip operation.

Bolivia's Evo Morales and Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina announced Wednesday that they would have to skip the summit due to pressing matters at home.

The leaders of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff; Uruguay, Jose Mujica; Chile, Sebastian Piñera; Argentina, Cristina Fernandez; Ecuador, Rafael Correa; and Cuba, Raul Castro, will also be absent from the gathering.

Fernandez is recuperating from emergency surgery to drain blood from her brain.

"Those who don't come will have their motives, their reasons," Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli said Thursday.

"Nicolas Maduro, I don't know - ask him," Martinelli said of Venezuela's president, who is also not expected to attend the summit.

The Panamanian government arranged for most of the summiteers to fly into a former U.S. airbase on the outskirts of the capital and travel from there to the meeting venue without having to transit traffic-clogged Panama City.

The theme of the gathering is The Ibero-American Community in the New Global Context.

Taking place in parallel with the summit are the Communication Forum, organized by the Spanish government and Mexico-based media powerhouse Televisa, and the Ibero-American Business Encounter.