Venezuela's Chavez Hosts Allies At ALBA Bloc Talks

Published February 5, 2012 2:54AM (EST)

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez told a group of his international allies on Saturday that countries in the left-leaning ALBA bloc should work together to strengthen their economies to withstand global economic troubles.

Chavez encouraged leaders at the weekend talks to pursue "a more ambitious project" in economic cooperation.

"The economic issue is first on the agenda. You all see how the world is. There's a terrible crisis," Chavez told the presidents, including Cuba's Raul Castro and Bolivia's Evo Morales, among others.

Chavez said the eight member countries of the Bolivarian Alliance bloc, or ALBA, should expand their use of a virtual currency known as the Sucre for trade.

Chavez has promoted the Sucre since 2010 as an accounting unit to replace the dollar for some trade. Venezuela has used the system to pay for some of its food imports from Bolivia and Ecuador.

Chavez also said the countries should pool some of their international reserves in the jointly administered ALBA Bank.

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa complained that thus far the bloc's economic plans "don't advance more quickly."

"Above all it's the will to search for complementary exchanges" and to eliminate trade barriers, Correa said during the televised meeting.

Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman joined the presidents at the talks, and Chavez said the group would discuss Argentina's long-running dispute with Britain over the Falkland Islands.

"The issue of the Malvinas Islands is an issue that concerns us, especially with the strong language that has emerged from the British government, accusing Argentina of being colonialist... the world in reverse," Chavez said.

The dispute heated up recently when London dispatched Prince William to the islands on a six-week military tour, along with a warship in the run-up to the 30th anniversary of Argentina's April 1982 invasion, which sparked a 10-week war.

Argentina, which claims Britain stole the archipelago from it 180 years ago, calls them the Malvinas and has protested the British deployment.

Also attending the talks were the leaders of ALBA members Nicaragua, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, along with nonmember Haiti.

Haitian President Michel Martelly thanked Chavez for Venezuela's assistance to his country.

Chavez also said Suriname's president, Desi Bouterse, would arrive on Sunday to join the meeting.

By Salon Staff

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