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Cuba's Fidel Castro assumes presidency of CELAC

SANTIAGO, Chile--Cuban President Raul Castro assumed the presidency of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) on Monday in a demonstration of regional unity against U.S. efforts to isolate the communist government through a 50-year-old economic embargo.

Castro was warmly welcomed by his colleagues as he spoke Monday at the closing ceremony of the CELAC summit in Santiago, taking over the rotating presidency from Chile.

Castro said Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had helped realize South American independence hero Simon Bolivar's dream of unifying the region by negotiating the creation of the CELAC bloc in December 2011.

Many of the leaders speaking in Santiago described CELAC as a counterweight to the economic and political power of the United States, which for decades froze Cuba out of the Organization of American States and other regional groupings.

“Cuba's assumption of the presidency of the CELAC marks a change of times,” Argentine President Cristina Fernandez said. “For Chilean President Sebastian Pinera to transfer the presidency pro tempore to Castro shows the times we're living.”

The transfer of power from a Chilean leader to a Castro would have been unthinkable some years ago.

Former Chilean President Salvador Allende committed suicide during the 1973 military coup that ousted his democratically elected socialist government. He used a rifle that he had received as a gift from Fidel Castro, the current Cuban president's brother.

The dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet then persecuted leftists, and the Chilean government officially estimates that 3,095 people were killed by his regime.

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In this photo released by the CELAC, Cuba's President Raul Castro, front left, speaks during the CELAC summit as his Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, right, looks on in Santiago, Chile, Monday, Jan. 28.

(AP)

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