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Chavez: April summit should be last without Cuba

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he thinks a bloc of left-leaning nations should attend the upcoming Summit of the Americas despite their opposition to Cuba’s exclusion.

Chavez said he thinks members of the Bolivarian Alliance, or ALBA, bloc ought to attend the April 14-15 summit in Cartagena, Colombia, in order to demand Cuba’s future participation, the state-run Venezuelan News Agency reported.

“This will be the last so-called Summit of the Americas without Cuba. The next one wouldn’t occur,” Chavez said in a phone call broadcast on state television Monday night.

He said a “good number of us” will advocate Cuba’s inclusion at the next such gathering.

“No more summits without Cuba’s participation,” Chavez said.

Chavez said he had discussed the matter with the leaders of Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Brazil.

In Brazil, Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said earlier Monday that ALBA member countries had yet to decide whether to participate in the summit due to Cuba’s exclusion.

“We’re in the middle of discussing this issue. We think we aren’t in times of exclusion. We’re in times of inclusion,” Choquehuanca said after a meeting with Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota in Brasilia.

Members of the ALBA bloc demanded last month that Cuba be included in the summit, but stopped short of threatening a boycott while urging Colombia’s government to extend an invitation.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos visited Havana earlier this month for talks with Cuban President Raul Castro, and said no consensus had been reached on the question of Cuba’s participation.

Santos also met with Chavez in Havana on March 7 while the Venezuelan leader was there recovering from cancer surgery. The Colombian leader said afterward that Chavez had told him he hoped to attend the summit if his health permitted it.

Cuba has accused Washington of pressuring countries to keep the communist island nation from attending the summit.

U.S. officials say Cuba, ruled since 1959 by brothers Fidel and Raul Castro, does not meet the summit’s standards of democracy and thus has no business taking part.

The ALBA group, which was Chavez’s brainchild, is made up of Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Venezuela.

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