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Latin American Nations Tout Independence at Summit

Latin American leaders welcomed Cuba and touted their independence from the United States during a two-day summit in Brazil that began on Tuesday.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez remarked on Cuba's integration into the Rio Group Tuesday, saying the country's presence at the meeting is a strong signal that Latin America no longer answers to the U.S.

Representatives from 33 Latin American and Caribbean countries gathered at the Costa do Sauipe resort in Bahia state.

The summit, which excludes the United States and Canada, is aimed at deepening economic and political ties in the region. Leaders also are working to bolster integration and development as they look at ways to survive the economic crisis.

During Tuesday's meeting, several leaders blamed developing nations for the global economic crisis.

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa, whose country recently defaulted on a foreign debt payment, called for a stronger regional development bank to deal with the credit crunch.

The heads of state of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay convened separately Monday for the Mercosur regional trade bloc meeting, which Cuban President Raul Castro attended as a special guest.

Mr. Castro discussed his willingness to hold talks with incoming U.S. President-elect Barack Obama over the decades-old trade embargo against Cuba.

On Tuesday, the trade bloc was not able to agree on a reform to eliminate dual tariffs on imported goods.

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