Cuba calls for integration free of US at CELAC summit

Cuba calls for integration free of US at CELAC summit

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

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HAVANA, Cuba (AP) — Cuban President Raul Castro has called on Latin American and Caribbean leaders to work together on pressing regional problems at a gathering of all Western Hemisphere nations, except the United States and Canada.

In his keynote speech yesterday as head of the host nation for the summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, or CELAC for its initials in Spanish, Castro argued that the bloc should aspire to unity despite diversity, and is "the legitimate representative of the interests of Latin America and the Caribbean".

"We should establish a new regional and international co-operation paradigm," Castro said. "In the context of CELAC, we have the possibility to create a model of our own making, adapted to our realities, based on the principles of mutual benefit."

The summit's main theme is fighting poverty, inequality and hunger. According to the United Nation's Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, 28.2 per cent of the region's inhabitants live in poverty and 11.3 per cent in extreme poverty.

"While it is true that some progress has been made during the last few years, this has been slow, fragmented and unstable," Castro said.

Yesterday's session of heads of CELAC states began with a one-minute silence to remember the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who succumbed to cancer last March.

Chavez, an outspoken US foe, was a driving force behind CELAC's creation in 2011. It was conceived as an alternative to the Washington-based Organisation of American States, which suspended Cuba's membership in 1962 shortly after Fidel Castro's revolution.

Proponents argued that the OAS has historically served Washington's interests rather than those of the region, and even Latin American allies of the United States have participated enthusiastically in CELAC.

OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza attended the summit yesterday as an observer, believed to be the first visit by a secretary-general to Cuba since its founding in 1948.

In his wide-ranging speech, Castro touched on the risk that global climate change poses to the region, especially low-lying Caribbean islands. He expressed solidarity for Argentina's claim to the British-controlled Falkland Islands, known in Spanish as the Malvinas; for Puerto Rican independence; and for Ecuador in its legal battle with US oil company Chevron.

He also criticised the 52-year-old US economic embargo on Cuba as well as American surveillance targeting the communications of foreign heads of state, companies and individuals. The threats of outside interference, military invasion and coups remain present, Castro said.

"The so-called centres of power do not resign themselves to having lost control over this rich region, nor will they ever renounce attempts to change the course of history in our countries in order to recover the influence they have lost and benefit from their resources," Castro said, a thinly veiled reference to the United States.

Cuba is passing the rotating presidency of CELAC to Costa Rica at the summit.

Retired leader Fidel Castro received visits from presidents Dilma Rousseff of Brazil and Cristina Fernandez of Argentina, as well as Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, on Sunday and Monday.

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