- POSTED: 28 Jan 2014 23:48
Cuban President Raul Castro on Tuesday opened a summit of Latin American leaders, the second meeting of a group set up by Venezuela's late anti-Western leader Hugo Chavez to counter US influence.
HAVANA: Cuban President Raul Castro on Tuesday opened a summit of Latin American leaders, the second meeting of a group set up by Venezuela's late anti-Western leader Hugo Chavez to counter US influence.
The meeting -- which began with a moment of silence for the late leader -- was hosted by Chavez's closest ally, communist Cuba, a major diplomatic coup for a country Washington has tried to isolate through a five-decade-old trade embargo.
"We deeply regret the physical absence of one of the great leaders of our America, the unforgettable Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez," Castro said as he asked his fellow presidents and heads of state to rise for the moment of silence.
The CELAC bloc of 33 Latin American and Caribbean nations, was the culmination of an effort by Chavez to bring together both right-wing and leftist governments to counter the influence of the United States.
The group plans to sign a more than 80-point statement on Wednesday on issues ranging from combating poverty to disarmament -- a document prepared by delegates from the attending countries during diplomatic wrangling since the weekend.
On Monday, Castro was joined by several regional leaders in the town of Mariel to mark the opening of a major container port, partly funded by Brazil and a major outlet for an island nation excluded from US trade.
"Brazil wants to be a first-order economic ally to Cuba," Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff declared at the ceremony.
Analysts say the summit sends a strong signal to the United States that the region will no longer accept Cuba's isolation -- though it is unlikely to change US policy.
Wednesday's session will also offer the first opportunity for Peru leader Ollanta Humala and Chile leader Sebatian Pinera to meet face to face after the UN's top court ruled in Lima's favour in a maritime border dispute.