Cuban president takes the reins of Latin bloc
BY Associated Press
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
1/29/13 at 6:18 AM
Cuban President Raul Castro assumed the presidency of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States on Monday in a demonstration of regional unity against U.S. efforts to isolate the communist government through a 50-year-old economic embargo.
Castro was warmly welcomed by his colleagues as he spoke at the closing ceremony of the CELAC summit in Santiago, taking over the rotating presidency from Chile.
He described what he called "a common vision for the Latin American and Caribbean homeland," saying that CELAC "joins the 33 independent nations of our America to build a space for national sovereignty."
Castro said Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had helped realize South American independence hero Simon Bolivar's dream of unifying the region by negotiating the creation of the CELAC bloc in December 2011.
Many of the leaders speaking in Santiago described CELAC as a counterweight to the economic and political power of the United States, which for decades froze Cuba out of the Organization of American States and other regional groupings.
Conservative voices around the hemisphere, however, have criticized the region's democracies for allowing the communist leader to take charge.
Chavez remains in Havana, where he is undergoing medical treatment after struggling with complications following cancer surgery, Venezuelan officials announced in Chile.
Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro read a letter he said came from Chavez, asking countries to remain unified and fight economic imperialism.