MEXICO CITY, Sept. 18 (Reuters) – Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean should aspire to a bloc like the European Union, the Mexican president and other leaders said at a summit on Saturday, with the aim of ‘wrest influence from the Organization of American States (OAS).

For years, some of the region’s left-wing flag bearers who attended the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) gathering saw the OAS as too close to the United States, in particular despite the exclusion of Cuba from its members. States.

The host of Saturday’s summit, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, told more than a dozen presidents and prime ministers at the opening ceremony that such a revamped diplomatic corps could better boost the economies of the region hit by inequalities and dealing with health and other crises.

“In these times, CELAC can become the main instrument to consolidate relations between our Latin American and Caribbean nations,” he said in a cavernous ballroom in Mexico’s ornate National Palace, where leaders took turns to speak and where sparks sprang up between the ideological opponents.

“We should build something similar on the American continent to the economic community that was the start of the current European Union,” said leftist Lopez Obrador. He stressed the need to respect national sovereignty and adhere to non-interventionist and development-friendly policies.

Leaders met at the invitation of Lopez Obrador with the avowed aim of weakening the OAS. The summit kick-off drew attention to the region’s center-left leaders, including Peru’s new president Pedro Castillo, Cuban Miguel Diaz-Canel and Venezuelan Nicolas Maduro.

Right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro withdrew from CELAC last year, criticizing it for raising undemocratic countries. Argentina’s Alberto Fernandez canceled at the last minute due to a sudden cabinet reshuffle in his country.

SPARKS

Some cracks have appeared among the leaders. Uruguay’s center-right president Luis Lacalle said his participation should not be interpreted as joining some of the region’s most authoritarian regimes or rejecting the OAS.

“We are worried and look seriously at what is happening in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela,” he said, ticking off what he described as repressive actions, including the imprisonment of political opponents.

Cuba’s Diaz-Canel retaliated by attacking neoliberal policies that he said have stunted social progress. He also criticized Lacalle’s leadership, noting the big response to a recent petition campaign by his national political opposition.

The Uruguayan responded by criticizing Cuba’s communist government, noting that it does not tolerate opposition or allow its people to elect their own leaders.

Bolivian President Luis Arce called for a global agreement to cancel the debts of poor countries while Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez called for a regional body to fight climate change.

A new CELAC fund to respond to natural disasters was also announced.

Former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez helped set up CELAC in 2011, and his beleaguered successor Maduro arrived in the Mexican capital on Friday night as a surprise addition. Read more .

In remarks Friday night, Maduro suggested that a new CELAC headquarters be established in the Mexican capital. Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard politely avoided the proposal on Saturday at the request of journalists, calling the idea premature.

Reporting by David Alire Garcia and Noe Torres; Editing by Andrea Ricci and David Gregorio

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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