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Latin Americans Pledge to Respect Cuba's Form of Government

Chile's President Sebastian Pinera (L) and his Peruvian counterpart Ollanta Humala shake hands during a joint news conference at the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) summit in Havana, Jan. 29, 2014.
Chile's President Sebastian Pinera (L) and his Peruvian counterpart Ollanta Humala shake hands during a joint news conference at the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) summit in Havana, Jan. 29, 2014.
Latin American leaders backed the right of all countries in the region to choose their own political systems on Wednesday, a victory for Cuba as the only one-party state in the western hemisphere.

Cuba is hosting a summit of 33 countries of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean states (CELAC), which agreed in a declaration to “fully respect the inalienable right of every state to choose its political system.”

Criticizing U.S. antagonism toward Cuba as a Cold War anachronism, the heads of state and government agreed “not to intervene, directly or indirectly, in the internal affairs of any other state and to observe the principles of national sovereignty.”

CELAC, which excludes the United States and Canada, was the brainchild of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and created as a counterweight to the Organization of American States (OAS), which has its headquarters in Washington.

The CELAC resolution goes against the OAS charter, which expressly requires members to uphold a “pluralistic system of political parties and organizations” and hold free elections.

Cuba bans all parties but the Communist Party, which plays a central role in choosing which candidates can run in its elections for the national legislature. The elected legislators then select who governs on the Council of State.

The OAS expelled Cuba in 1962 for being communist, and though OAS foreign ministers voted to reinstate Cuba in 2009, Havana has declined to rejoin the organization.

The OAS also suspended Honduras after a 2009 coup removed the president from office under the charter's provisions against “unconstitutional alteration or interruption of the democratic order.” Honduras was readmitted in 2011 after a new, elected government came to power.

Integration and equality

As the two-day summit came to close on Wednesday, leaders called for greater regional economic integration and resolving its historic economic inequality.

The region has produced the world's richest person - Mexico's Carlos Slim, according to Forbes - yet 164 million live in poverty, representing 28 percent of the population. Of those, 68 million live in extreme poverty, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Even though poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean has fallen 15.7 percentage points since 2002 and extreme poverty 8.0 points in that time, the rate of improvement is slowing, the December report said.

“Latin America has made many important advances, but the road ahead is very difficult,” Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said during his turn to address the summit. “But if we unite our efforts, we will be much more effective.”

The summit also declared the region a “zone of peace” in which neighbors would resolve their disputes without weapons. Santos took advantage of the agreement to note advances made in his government's peace talks with leftist FARC rebels, and thanked Cuba for hosting the talks.

The summit also produced an agreement to create a trade forum between the 33 counties and China, the largest buyer of commodities in Latin America and a rising regional investor.

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