Latin America gives support to Argentina over Falklands

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The Independent US

Latin America and Caribbean leaders concluded an occasionally rowdy two-day summit in Mexico last night showing solidarity with Argentina in its dispute with Britain over the Falkland Islands and a pledge to create a new regional group that will exclude Canada and the United States.

The forging of a new body free from the historic influence of their giant northern neighbours was billed in advance as the main goal of the summit held near Playa del Carmen and hosted by the Mexican President Felipe Calderon. To be called the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, it will take years to launch and is unlikely fully to supplant the existing Organisation of American States (OAS).

President Cristina Fernandez of Argentina has explicitly ruled out military conflict over the drilling issue but has insisted on exerting control over shipping between the mainland and the islands, a position Britain rejects. In Mexico, leaders said they were united in the need to "reaffirm their support for the legitimate rights of the republic of Argentina in the sovereignty dispute with Great Britain".

If a show of unity would have befitted the drive between the leaders towards the new regional group, the party was spoiled by a loud altercation that reportedly broke out at dinner on Monday night between Mr Chavez and his long-time sparring partner from neighbouring Colombia, President Alvaro Uribe. After Mr Uribe complained about Venezuelan trade sanctions, Mr Chavez made to storm off. "Be a man," Mr Uribe reportedly called out to Mr Chavez – implying cowardice on his part – according to officials present who spoke on condition of anonymity to wire agencies. "Stay here because sometimes you insult from a distance but when we are face-to-face we don't talk."

The creation of the new regional group has been championed in particular by Mexico and Brazil, which have made the case that the countries need to stake out their positions in international affairs without Canada and the US breathing down their necks.

A Chilean official at the talks said there will never be any question of dissolving the OAS, however, of which the Canada and the US are founder members. The same sentiment was voiced by Arturo Valenzuela, the senior official overseeing Latin American relations at the US State Department. "Replacing the OAS? I don't think most of the countries are on that at all," he said.

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