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Regional Group Leaves Out U.S. and Canada

Regional Group Leaves Out U.S. and Canada

Source – NYTimes

By Elisabeth Malkin

MEXICO CITY — Leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean agreed Tuesday to form a new regional group that brings Cuba into the fold but excludes Canada and the United States.

Some of the divisions within the group were on full display during the two-day meeting on Mexico’s Caribbean coast, and most of the details of the new bloc — including its name — remain to be worked out.

But by creating the new group, President Felipe Calderón of Mexico could claim a diplomatic success. “We will strengthen our voice in the concert of nations through this new mechanism, to become protagonists and no longer mere spectators of what happens in the world,” Mr. Calderón said as the meeting of 32 heads of state closed.

All of the invited leaders attended, including President Raúl Castro of Cuba. His appearance appeared to mark an end to more than a decade of strained relations between Mexico and Cuba.

The gathering also highlighted how diverse the region’s politics have become, divided among a populist left-wing bloc led by President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, center-left leaders like President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil and conservative leaders, including Mr. Calderón and Sebastián Piñera, who will take office as Chile’s president next month.

Some of the leaders, including Mr. Chávez, would like the new bloc to supplant the Organization of American States, which they and other critics say is dominated by the United States. But Mr. Calderón said Tuesday that Mexico would continue to participate in the O.A.S. Mexican officials have said that the new bloc would streamline the work of a patchwork of regional groups, particularly on issues like poverty and economic development.

Another aim of the meeting was to create a way to prevent local tensions from flaring up into more serious regional conflicts.

Those tensions were on full display on Monday, when an argument flared between Mr. Chávez and President Álvaro Uribe of Colombia, who have been at odds for years over Mr. Uribe’s close relationship with the United States.

Mr. Chávez accused Mr. Uribe of tolerating paramilitary groups who threatened Venezuela and he prepared to storm out, witnesses told reporters.

But Mr. Uribe was said to have shouted: “Be a man, stay here, because sometimes you insult from a distance, but when we’re face to face, we don’t talk.” Mr. Calderón and Mr. Castro intervened to calm both men down.

In response, the leaders designated Mr. Calderón, Mr. da Silva and President Leonel Fernández of the Dominican Republic as a “group of friends” to mediate between Colombia and Venezuela.

Declarations at the end of the meeting repeated some longtime grievances, including one that called for an end to the United States’ trade embargo against Cuba.