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Venezuela's Chavez Hosts ALBA Summit

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is hosting Latin American leaders in Venezuela for a summit of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) -- a regional trade alliance he created with Cuba.

The gathering's opening in the Venezuelan city of Cumana Thursday comes just one day before the Summit of the Americas begins in Trinidad and Tobago.

Leaders from all six member states of ALBA are to attend the summit in Venezuela. In addition to Mr. Chavez, the meeting will include the presidents of Bolivia, Honduras and Nicaragua, as well as Dominica's prime minister and a representative of Cuba. The presidents of Ecuador and Paraguay will also be there as observers.

President Chavez said the officials will aim to reach a common platform ahead of the Summit of the Americas, which will be attended by U.S. President Barack Obama and leaders from every ALBA nation except Cuba.

In recent statements, Mr. Chavez has criticized the exclusion of Cuba from the summit.

The Venezuelan president and the other ALBA leaders are strongly opposed to the U.S. blockade against the communist-led island, and several of them have said they will present their position to President Obama in Trinidad.

Venezuela and Cuba created the ALBA alliance in 2004 to counter U.S. influence in the region.

Mr. Chavez has said this week's ALBA summit will also include discussions on the creation of a regional currency that has already been named Sucre.