Showing off new energy after cancer treatment, Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez hosted Latin American leaders on Friday to create a new regional body that pointedly excludes the United States and Canada.
The inauguration of the 33-member Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) is the populist leader biggest moment on the world stage since his surgery in June.
The 57-year-old former coup leader, who wants to win re-election next October warmly greeted fellow leaders including Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, Argentina's Cristina Fernandez and Cuba's Raúl Castro.
As the years go by, CELAC is going to leave behind the old and worn-out OAS, Chávez told reporters, referring to the hemisphere-wide Organization of American States that several nations say is under Washington's thumb.
The OAS is a body made ragged by its age and drained by the years, and it's very far from the spirit of our people.
However excluding joy, the event is seen by critics as yet another unnecessary group to a plethora of overlapping organizations in the region.
The countries of CELAC have nearly 600 million people and comprise the world's number one food exporter region. They have a combined GDP of about 6 trillion dollars, roughly a third of the combined output of the United States and Canada.
Cuba, suspended from the OAS in 1962, is a CELAC member.
Venezuelan Foreign Affairs minister Nicolas Maduro announced his peers from the 33 member CELAC had already agreed the Caracas Declaration and options for decision making which is to be considered by the presidents on Saturday.
“We have approved the Caracas Declaration with all its components and now it is up to the heads of state”, said Maduro. The document also contains the basis for the future charter and working mechanisms of CELAC.
“An only point has to be discussed and that is how to arrive to decisions. The prevailing opinion was consensus. But Ecuador said that in the absence of unanimity, a qualified majority (four fifths) could be instrumented”, added Maduro. The proposal received limited support from Mexico.
“The doctrine and spirit behind the charter and other documents contemplates the diversity of our continent”, said the Venezuelan minister.
The summit will take place at the military fort of Tiuna in Caracas surrounded by extreme security measures.