Mexican president pitches regional block similar to European Union


Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador speaks before the traditional military parade to mark the bicentennial of Mexico's Independence from Spain, and ahead of the summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), at the Zocalo square in Mexico City, Mexico September 16, 2021. REUTERS/Gustavo Graf

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -Latin American and Caribbean nations should aspire to a regional block similar to the European Union, Mexico's president said on Saturday, in a bid to wrest diplomatic influence away from the Washington-based Organization of American States (OAS).

The host of the summit, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, told nearly 20 presidents and prime ministers attending the meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) at the gathering's opening ceremony that the block could better boost the region's inequality-stricken economies as well as confront health and other crisis.

"In these times, CELAC can become the principal instrument to consolidate relations between our Latin American and Caribbean nations," he said at the opening ceremony, held at the ornate national palace in downtown Mexico City.

"We should build in the American continent something similar to what was the economic community that was the beginning of the current European Union," he added, emphasizing the need to respect the sovereignty of the region's mostly Spanish-speaking nations.

The summit's kickoff focused attention on the region's center-left leaders, including Peru's new president, Pedro Castillo, Cuba's Miguel Diaz-Canel and Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro.

No representative of Brazil's right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro attended.

But some fissures emerged, including criticism from Uruguay's center-right President Luis Lacalle, who said his participation in the summit should not be interpreted as an embrace of some of the region's more authoritarian regimes.

"We are worried and look gravely at what's happening in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela," he said, ticking off what he described as repressive actions by those governments, including the jailing of political opponents.

The leaders gathered at the invitation of Lopez Obrador with a stated aim of weakening the Washington-based OAS, the long-standing regional body that excludes Cuba and is viewed with skepticism by many of Latin America's center-left leaders.

In his remarks, Bolivian President Luis Arce called for a global agreement to lower debts for poor countries while Cuba's Diaz-Canel spoke out for an end to the U.S. trade embargo against the communist-run island.

Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez helped set up CELAC in 2011, and his embattled successor Maduro arrived in the Mexican capital late on Friday in a surprise addition to the assembled heads of state .

(Reporting by David Alire Garcia and Noe Torres; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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