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MEXICO - New regional bloc formed

Published:Wednesday | February 24, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Mexico (AP):

LEADERS OF 32 nations agreed yesterday to create a new regional bloc, including every country in the Americas, except Canada and the United States, a show of unity marred when the Venezuelan and Colombian presidents hurled insults at each other.

The new organisation will defend democracy and human rights and foster cooperation among Latin American and Caribbean countries, said Mexican President Felipe Calderón, the host of the Grupo del Rio summit at a resort in the Yucatan peninsula.

Few details of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States have been worked out, and its formation is expected to take years. The leaders agreed to meet in Venezuela in 2011 and in Chile the following year as part of the process. The leaders disagree on whether the bloc should replace the Washington-based Organisation of American States (OAS), the largest diplomatic bloc in Western Hemisphere, which has been heavily influenced by the United States.

"It's very important that we don't try to replace the OAS. The OAS is a permanent organisation that has its own functions," said Chilean President-elect Sebastian Pinera. Conservative Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and Venezuela's leftist Hugo Chávez, whose relations have long been testy, gave a taste of the sort of disputes the new bloc will have to tackle.