Michelle Bachelet, Chile's president, proposed that the economic crisis be discussed directly by nation heads on Thursday during a private meeting.

Al Jazeera's Gabriel Elizondo in El Salvador said Central American states face potentially serious economic challenges resulting from the financial crisis because of their close ties to the struggling US economy.

Chavez absent

Elias Antonio Saca, El Salvador's president, and UNICEF, the UN children's agency, put forward a proposal for free education in the region to be discussed at the summit.

Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's president, and Raul Castro, the Cuban leader, were both absent.

Chavez declined to attend, despite appeals from Saca, citing safety concerns.

At last year's summit, King Juan Carlos of Spain told the Venezuelan leader to "shut up", sparking a diplomatic row between the two countries.

Cuba was being represented by Carlos Lage, the country's vice president.