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Chavez Opens Summit of Regional Leaders

Leaders stand during the opening session of the summit of the 33-member Community of Latin American and Caribbean States [CELAC] hosted by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (C), in Caracas, Venezuela, December 2, 2011.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has opened a two-day summit of Latin American leaders to inaugurate a new regional bloc that excludes the United States and Canada.

The regional leaders gathered Friday in Caracas as the 33-member Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, or CELAC, was launched. Unlike the Washington-based Organization of American States, CELAC will have Cuba as a member. Cuban President Raul Castro and Brazil's Dilma Rousseff are among the leaders attending the Caracas talks.

When asked about the U.S. exclusion from the grouping, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. will continue to work with Latin American nations through the OAS.

The summit was to have taken place in July to coincide with Venezuela's 200th anniversary of independence. The talks were delayed because Chavez recovered following surgery in Havana to remove a malignant tumor. The Venezuelan leader has not said what kind of cancer he was diagnosed with, but said he has beaten the disease.

Chavez has said previously he will be healthy enough to campaign and win re-election to another six-year term in 2012. Chavez, who is 57, has been in power since 1999.

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