Sat, Apr 18, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Venezuela opposes summit declaration

AP , CUMANA, VENEZUELA

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said yesterday that Venezuela would vote against the declaration of the Summit of the Americas in a gesture of protest against the US.

The summit, which began yesterday, brings together all 34 members of the Organization of American States (OAS). But Chavez said it reinforces a US foreign policy that treats the rest of Latin America as subservient to Washington’s interests.

The socialist leader criticized a clause in the draft declaration of the Americas Summit referring to democracy, saying such language should not be used to exclude Cuba.

“Where is there more democracy, in the United States or in Cuba?” he said. “I have no doubt — there’s more democracy in Cuba.”

Chavez said a new hemispheric group that does not give the US such power should be created to replace the OAS, and he suggested this weekend’s summit in Trinidad “should be the last of its kind.”

The fiery Venezuelan leader is unlikely to soften his tone at the Americas Summit — even as he seeks improved relations with Washington, said analyst Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington.

“Chavez would be wise to lay low, but he may not be able to help himself,” Shifter said. “He will want to remind the region, and the world, that he is still a leading figure who deserves to be taken very seriously.”

The US pays more than 70 percent of the OAS budget, which affords it certain privileges in the organization. All decisions by the OAS are by consensus.

Chavez’s defense of Cuba came as he welcomed his closest Latin American allies for talks aimed at demonstrating a united front ahead of their first encounter with US President Barack Obama at the summit.

“Why does Cuba continue to be mistreated?” Chavez said after warmly greeting Cuban President Raul Castro at the airport, condemning the US trade embargo against the island.

Venezuela and other members of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Nations of Our America also plan to lessen reliance on the US dollar by establishing a common currency, the sucre, for trade purposes.

The leaders signed an agreement creating what Chavez said will be a “virtual currency” for trade.

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