6:55 PM PST, January 28, 2014
HAVANA — Cuban President Raul Castro called on Latin American and Caribbean leaders Tuesday to work together on pressing regional problems at a gathering of all Western Hemisphere nations except the U.S. and Canada.
In his keynote speech as host for the summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, or CELAC for its initials in Spanish, Castro said the bloc should aspire to unity despite diversity, describing it as “the legitimate representative of the interests of Latin America and the Caribbean.”
“We should establish a new regional and international cooperation paradigm,” Castro said. “In the context of CELAC, we have the possibility to create a model of our own making, adapted to our realities, based on the principles of mutual benefit.”
The summit's main theme is fighting poverty, inequality and hunger. According to the United Nation’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, 28% of the region's inhabitants live in poverty, with 11% in extreme poverty.
Tuesday's session of heads of state began with one minute of silence to remember the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer in March. Chavez, an outspoken U.S. foe, was a driving force behind CELAC's creation in 2011 as an alternative to the Washington-based Organization of American States.