Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has called for an “eradication” of “colonialism” in Latin America at the annual summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
During the summit held in Cuba’s capital, Havana, over January 28 and 29, Maduro called for Puerto Rican independence and an end to British administration of the Falklands/Malvinas Islands, to which Argentina claims sovereignty.
Puerto Rica was offered full membership of CELAC under a proposal made to the summit by Venezuela.
Maduro said: “Venezuela has come to Havana with its proposals and contributions, which is to declare the region 'free of colonies' and invite Puerto Rico to formally join the family.”
There was no immediate response from Puerto Rico, which remains an unincorporated United States territory. Maduro also spoke in support of Puerto Rican independence from Washington.
Launched in 2011 in Caracas, CELAC was founded as an alternative to the Organisation of American States (OAS) and boasts 33 member states.
Unlike the OAS, CELAC excludes the US and Canada.
Maduro called on CELAC members to continue on the “path of unity, freedom and prosperity as Simon Bolivar dreamed”.
Other left-wing leaders joined Maduro in calling for the Falklands/Malvinas to be handed over to Argentina. They also slammed the US on issues ranging from espionage to the ongoing embargo on the host country, Cuba.
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa told the summit: “The only way to resist and get rid of the empire of capitalism is integration.
“We have to make Latin America and the Caribbean a space of free men and women.”
Cuban President Raul Castro also called on the US to end its embargo of his country, and to close the military base at Guantanamo Bay.
The summit reissued a declaration of a “zone of peace” in Latin America and the Caribbean. It called for the peaceful resolution of international disputes and respect for the Charter of the United Nations.
Maduro said: “Latin America can join together based on its cultural, political, ideological ... diversity.”
The Venezuelan president also inked a new energy trade agreement with Saint Lucia's prime minister Kenny Anthony. The agreement was part of Venezuela’s Petrocaribe initiative, through which it provides Caribbean nations with access to badly needed oil via cheap loans.
The head of another island nation, Grenada's Keith Mitchell, submitted a request for membership of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) to Maduro. ALBA is an nine-nation anti-imperialist political and economic bloc first founded by Venezuela and Cuba in 2004.
At the summit, tributes were also paid to Maduro's predecessor Hugo Chavez, who died in March last year. The summit opened with one minute of silence for Chavez, who was a key advocate of CELAC's creation.
Castro said: “We deeply regret the physical absence of one of the great leaders of our America, the unforgettable Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, an ardent and tireless promoter and fighter for independence, cooperation, solidarity and integration, Latin American and Caribbean unity and the very creation of this community.”
A museum dedicated to Chavez in the east of Havana was inaugurated during the conference. Opened during a ceremony on Wednesday, the museum's exhibit focuses on Chavez's life.
CELAC member states also used the summit to hold talks on regional issues that have historically been discussed through the OAS; such as security and human rights.
Outgoing Chilean President Sebastian Pinera and his Peruvian counterpart Ollanta Humala used the conference to publicly issue a joint statement to end a long-running maritime border dispute.
Days before the summit, The Hague redrew the border, handing Peru a larger piece of the Pacific Ocean. Chile held on to coastal fishing grounds.
President Danilo Medina of the Dominican Republic used his address to respond to criticism of a recent court ruling that critics say could strip thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent of citizenship.
This year's summit ended with Cuba passing the rotating CELAC presidency to Costa Rica. Ecuador will hold the presidency after Costa Rica.
[Abridged from Venezuela Analysis.]