South American presidents announce creation of new regional bloc

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SANTIAGO (Reuters) - A group of South American leaders signed a declaration on Friday to create a bloc they say is open to any country, regardless of ideology, to collaborate on solving regional problems.

Presidents from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Peru attended the summit in the Chilean capital of Santiago. Chile and Colombia had led the push for the new ‘Prosur’ political grouping after criticism that a previous bloc, Unasur, failed to take action on crisis-stricken Venezuela.

“This will be a forum with a firm and clear commitment to democracy, freedom and a respect for human rights,” said Chilean President Sebastian Pinera following the signing ceremony.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was not among the leaders invited to meet in Santiago on Friday.

Some leaders have criticized the organizers for leaving out Maduro and instead inviting Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, recognized by many countries as head of state after he assumed the interim presidency in January. Guaido did not send a representative to the summit.

Bolivian President Evo Morales, a close ally of Maduro, and Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez also did not attend.

Unasur was created in 2008 when leftist populism advocated by Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez was at its strongest in South America. But in recent years, the bloc has been paralyzed by divisions as center-right governments have risen to power.

Reporting by Fabian Cambero, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien