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S. America to Obama: End Cuba embargo

COSTA DO SAUIPE, Brazil -- Latin American leaders called on President-elect Barack Obama on Wednesday to lift the 46-year-old U.S. embargo against Cuba as soon as he takes office.

The leaders of 33 Latin American and Caribbean nations said the unilateral enforcement of sanctions was “unacceptable” and said Washington must comply with U.N. resolutions condemning the embargo imposed against Cuba at the height of the Cold War in 1962.

Meeting in northeastern Brazil, they demanded the immediate lifting of measures taken in the last five years by President George W. Bush to toughen the embargo against Cuba, where Fidel Castro seized power in a 1959 revolution.

Obama, who takes office on Jan. 20, is expected to lift measures restricting cash remittances and travel to Cuba by Cubans living in the United States. But he has said will keep the embargo to encourage democratic change in the one-party state.

Cuba has won more friends in Latin America in recent years as center-left and socialist presidents have been elected and U.S. influence has declined sharply.

Showing their greater independence from the United States, the region’s leaders welcomed Cuba into the so-called Rio Group of Latin American and Caribbean countries

Cuban President Raul Castro, who took over earlier this year after his brother Fidel Castro fell ill, was feted by fellow leftists at the summit meeting here.

The Latin American leaders also pressed for a bigger say in world affairs, saying the global economic crisis was not of their making but was undermining their countries’ stability.

They were fiercely critical of rich countries as the source of the crisis which has slowed growth in the region as commodity prices fall and foreign capital dries up.

Ecuador last week defaulted on its foreign debt, sparking fears of other defaults. Venezuela may have to slash spending if oil prices remain low, and other countries will face cash squeezes as mining and agricultural exports fall in value.

“We have an important part to play in building a new international economic and political architecture,” said Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the summit host.

“I’m worried. Every day the risk premium of my country rises and in the United States it’s zero. Something is wrong,” Lula added.

But beyond the calls for greater unity, divisions were evident between anti-American leaders such as Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia and centrists such as Lula and Michelle Bachelet of Chile, who are keen to maintain friendly relations with the United States.

“Let’s not blame all evil on the empire,” said Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez.

Morales proposed giving the United States a deadline to lift sanctions against Cuba after which the region should withdraw its ambassadors from Washington.

But Lula said Obama should first be given a chance to present his policies on Latin America.

Yet even the good-hearted Lula could not resist poking fun at Bush over the weekend incident in Baghdad where an irate Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at the outgoing U.S. president during a news conference.

Lula jokingly threatened to throw a shoe at Chavez if the long-winded socialist leader spoke beyond his allotted time.

And at a news conference later, Lula quipped to reporters: “Please, nobody take off your shoes.”

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 S. America to Obama: End Cuba embargo 
Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner speaks with Cuba’s President Raul Castro, left, during the opening session of a summit of leaders from Latin American and Caribbean nations, in the Costa do Sauipe resort Tuesday, Dec. 16. (Reuters)

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