World News

Cuba pushes Latin American cooperation without U.S.

PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico (Reuters) - Cuban President Raul Castro called for Latin American solidarity on Tuesday at a summit in Mexico to create a new organization that could weaken U.S. influence in the region.

Cuba's President Raul Castro (L) lifts the hand of his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez after the closing ceremony of Latin American leaders summit in Cancun February 23, 2010. REUTERS/Gerardo Garcia

He backed Latin American complaints against the United States and Britain at a meeting of the “Rio Group” of regional leaders near the Caribbean resort town of Playa del Carmen.

The Rio Group, which welcomed Communist Cuba as a member in 2008, condemned the decades-long U.S. embargo on Cuba and Castro blasted British oil exploration in the Falkland islands, known as the Islas Malvinas in Spanish.

Argentina objects to private companies searching for oil in the territory, which it claims even though the South Atlantic islands have been British-controlled since the 19th century.

“Cuba has always backed Argentina’s justified claims to the Islas Malvinas. Today we firmly support the legitimate rights of our sister nation over her natural resources,” Castro said.

Britain’s Desire Petroleum has begun oil and gas exploration offshore near the Falklands. Falkland Oil & Gas, Rockhopper Exploration and Borders & Southern have also announced plans to drill in the area.

Argentina said last week ships sailing from its ports to the Falklands would need a government permit.

Cuba also criticized the inclusion of Ecuador on a list of nations accused by an international watchdog of failing to comply with standards against money laundering and terrorist financing.

The Financial Action Task Force, or FATF, comprised of governments and regional organizations, named Ecuador alongside Iran, Angola, North Korea and Ethiopia as nations posing risks to the international financial system.

“We also support the Ecuadorean government in its just complaints,” Castro said. “Which reminds us of the spurious U.S. State Department lists of countries that supposedly sponsor terrorism,” he said.

The election of President Barack Obama led to a brief thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations, frozen since the Cold War, but the country has long chafed at being included on the U.S. “state sponsors of terrorism” list since 1982.

Raul Castro took over the Cuban presidency in 2008 from his ailing brother and leader of the Cuban revolution Fidel Castro, promising modest reforms.

The Rio Group, including regional giants Mexico and Brazil, agreed to form a new Latin American diplomatic group that could eventually be an alternative to the Organization of American States.

The OAS last year lifted a 47-year suspension on Cuba, but Havana says it is not interested in rejoining the body, which includes the United States and promotes democracy.

Additional reporting by Miguel Angel Gutierrez and Luis Jaime Acosta; editing by Todd Eastham