New regional bloc established at Caracas conference

South American leaders at Celac conference in Caracas Host Hugo Chavez (centre) called the inaugural summit historic

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Leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean have approved the creation of a new regional bloc that excludes the United States and Canada.

But, unlike the Washington-based Organisation of American States, the new group (known by its Spanish initials as Celac) includes Cuba.

At the end of the summit in Venezuela, the leaders pledged closer ties.

They pledged to try to withstand the financial crisis affecting Europe and other developed economies.

The host, President Hugo Chavez, called the summit "historic".

Mr Chavez read out several statements approved by the leaders, including one opposing the US trade embargo on Cuba.

The Venezuelan leader, along with some of his closest allies, said the new bloc would help Latin America stand up to US influence.

But other leaders chose to highlight the region's economic concerns and issues such as drug trafficking and climate change.

Regional trade

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said that Latin American countries would need to rely more on their neighbours to continue thriving.

The region has so far achieved continued growth despite the problems affecting Europe and the United States.

President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia said countries like his would have to increase their trade with other countries in the region because "a hurricane was hitting the developed economies".

President Sebastian Pinera of Chile, who took over the rotating presidency of the bloc, said he hoped Celac would help build regional cooperation despite the differences between some of the 33 member states.

Other leaders said they expected Celac to serve as a forum to resolve regional conflicts and build stronger ties but not to replace other organisations like the OAS.

The next summit, in 2012, is scheduled to be held in Chile.

On Friday, Mr Chavez said Celac would leave behind the Organisation of American States, which he said was worn-out and dominated by the US.

The inaugural summit was due six months ago but was postponed because Mr Chavez was recovering from surgery to remove a cancerous growth.

The Venezuelan president has said he is completely recovered after four rounds of chemotherapy.

He is expected to run in next October's presidential election for another six-year term.

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