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    Leftist Latin American Leaders Sign Deal on Food Security

    Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba and Nicaragua have launched a $100-million food security fund aimed at boosting the supply of staples such as corn, rice and beans and offsetting sharp increases in global grain prices.

    Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez launched the deal Wednesday in Caracas, along with Bolivia's Evo Morales and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega. Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage also was present.

    As the agreement was signed, President Chavez blamed capitalism for soaring world food prices. He also said production of some farm products will be increased in response to the situation facing many nations.

    The four Latin American countries belong to a regional trading bloc known as ALBA, which Mr. Chavez and former Cuban leader Fidel Castro formed in 2004. The bloc is considered a socialist alternative to a U.S.-backed free trade deal.

    Separately, Bolivia's president received the support of the other leaders ahead of a vote on May 4 involving the eastern state of Santa Cruz, an opposition stronghold that seeks greater autonomy from La Paz.

    Three other opposition-controlled eastern states, representing Bolivia's wealthiest provinces, are planning to cast votes on autonomy issues later this year. Mr. Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous leader, wants to break up the large land holdings of eastern farmers, many of whom are of European descent, and redistribute the property among indigenous groups.

    He also wants to redistribute the nation's oil and gas wealth, which is centered in the east.

    Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.

     

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