Cuba, Venezuela dominate Caribbean unity summit despite leaders’ absence |

Cuba, Venezuela dominate Caribbean unity summit despite leaders’ absence

PANAMA CITY, Panama – Cuba and Venezuela led opposition to free market policies Friday, but Mexican President Vicente Fox called for a “strategic alliance” based on free trade in an ideological clash at the Summit of Caribbean States.Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage also lashed out at the U.S. war on terror, which he called “a campaign of pillage,” and said “the recent terror attacks in Madrid and London prove that you can’t defeat terrorism with terrorism.”Venezuela won praise with offers of oil on easy terms or in exchange for local products, while Cuba offered free medical care as part of efforts to broaden President Hugo Chavez’s leftist “Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas.”Chavez, an outspoken critic of President Bush and friend of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, has used the name of 19th century South American independence hero Simon Bolivar to describe the vaguely socialist, stridently anti-Washington program he has championed in Venezuela.”Venezuela has given the world, and especially the Caribbean, an example of solidarity and brotherhood,” Lage told the 25-member Association of Caribbean States, or ACS. “Venezuela and Cuba have taken the first steps toward the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas.”He invited the other countries to join and offered to provide medical care to 100,000 poor people from the region. “If we integrate the peoples of our countries, we can’t be dominated,” he said.Lage, who was attending in place of Castro, asked a question that has worried many at the two-day summit that began Thursday: “What will poor countries with no oil do when prices reach $100 per barrel?”Panama’s Foreign Minister Samuel Lewis Navarro – whose country is preparing to sign up for Venezuelan oil – said the issue of Chavez’s growing influence “has been exaggerated and dramatized,” but acknowledged that “the problem of high fuel prices … is real.”Chavez along with Castro was absent from the summit, but officials denied that either man feared an assassination attempt in Panama, where Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles allegedly hatched a plot to kill the Cuban leader in 2000.Chavez’s plans drew praise even from President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia, a close U.S. ally, who advocated linking the Caribbean islands with undersea oil pipelines and power lines.”I can envision Venezuela playing a great leadership role,” Uribe said.Pulling in the opposite direction was the Mexican president, who called for a “strategic alliance” based on free trade and lower investment barriers, and advocated “technology that allows us to leverage growth.”The United States drew praise after Congress approved on Wednesday the Central American Free Trade Accord, or CAFTA, which includes Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras and the Dominican Republic.”I think the step taken yesterday is a historic one. This is a step for Central America toward development, that puts us in the big leagues of trade,” said Salvadoran President Tony Saca. “This will mean jobs will be created.”However, many say the United States already dominates trade with the Caribbean too much.Almost all commerce flows north and south, mainly to the United States, and only about 8 percent of trade is between Caribbean nations – a fact Panamanian President Martin Torrijos attributed to “historic trends of domination.”Dominican President Leonel Fernandez said “regional integration has all too often been reduced to trade integration,” an approach he called “insufficient.” Fernandez called rising energy prices “a terrible threat to economic growth” and praised Chavez’s oil plan.Thirteen of the 15 members of the narrower Caribbean Community group, or Caricom – mainly island nations – already have signed onto Venezuela’s oil initiative, and similar plans have been launched in South America.Cuba managed to get a clause condemning the U.S. economic boycott inserted in the final draft of the summit declaration, which was approved Friday and which also stated support for greater representation of developing countries on the U.N. Security Council.Vail, Colorado

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