The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States was set up to free much of the hemisphere from the influence of the United States and Canada.
The organization is a direct competitor to the Organization of American States.
Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan president, was a founder. Evo Morales of Bolivia and Rafael Correa of Ecuador are strong supporters. Now Costa Rica’s president, Laura Chinchilla, will serve a term as president.
The organization of 33 countries is meeting in Havana, and already Cuban leader Rail Castro has sided with Argentina in its effort to take over the British-held Falkland Islands. Argentina calls the islands the Malvinas. He called on Great Britain to negotiate the status of the islands.
Ostensibly the theme of the conference is to develop approaches against poverty and inequality. The conference is expected to approve tens of documents and issue a closing declaration. There most certainly will be a call to the United States to end its economic embargo of Cuba. There also is likely a call by the conference to change the direction of the U.S. war on drugs. Some are even talking about more liberalization of drug use.
José Miguel Insuza, the secretary general of the Organization of American States is at the conference, perhaps in an effort to bring Cuba back into the hemispheric organization. Also there is Ban Ki-Moon, the secretary general of the United Nations.
The visit by the heads of state and the world leaders comes at a time when Cuban officials are enforcing arbitrary detentions of potential troublemakers and democracy advocates.
Castro opened the first session by asking for a minute of silence for Hugo Chávez. He said that the 10 percent of the richest individuals in Latin America and the Caribbean receive 32 percent of the total income while 30 percent, the poor, receive just 15 percent.
He said the people of Latin American and the Caribbean demand and require a better distribution of the richest and the income, universal and free access to a quality education, full employment, better salaries, the elimination of illiteracy, the establishment of secure food distribution, health services for the entire population, the right to housing, to drinking water and to sanitation systems.
Castro also criticized the United States for its long history of military interventions in the region and the more recent disclosures of extensive spying and wiretapping.
During her speech, President Chinchilla cited climate change and its devastating impact as a matter of survival for some of the smaller Caribbean island states and their populations.
She also put in a plug for the adoption last April of a U.N. arms control treaty that Costa Rica promoted. Security, she said, demands an international order more efficient in controlling the weapons market that nourishes criminals and terrorists. The treaty calls for counties to keep track of weapons exports.