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Inside Story

Latin America: Reforming from within

As regional leaders meet in Havana, we examine how they can challenge Washington's influence in their bloc.

Last updated: 30 Jan 2014 11:28
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The Cuban government is loosening its stranglehold on the country's economy and its people, with a string of reforms. That is bringing change to a country that until now, has seemed to be stuck in a time warp.

As it looks to the future, Havana is playing host to a summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean states (CELAC). It is a diplomatic coup for Cuba - a country the US has tried to isolate for more than 50 years, with a crippling trade embargo.

And the meeting of 33 Latin American leaders is itself, something of a rebuke to the US. The bloc was the brainchild of the late Hugo Chavez, who wanted to counter the influence of the US and the Washington-dominated Organization of American States.

This year the CELAC discussed issues such as poverty, inequality and illiteracy; but did not miss the opportunity to lash out at what they perceive as dominance by the US.

Cuba can boast some of the highest literacy levels in the world but it came under fire for its human rights records and intolerance of dissenting voices.

But that did not deter Cuban leader Raul Castro, who used the unique opportunity to stress the importance of more regional integration: "We should establish a new type of regional-international cooperation model. Based on the principle of solidarity and mutual-benefit, we are likely to build a model suitable to our own conditions under the CELAC."

And Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said it is time for Cuba's isolation to end: "The presidency of Cuba in the CELAC showed more than once how out of date its exclusion is from the Organization of American States. Brazil has always been opposed to it."

So, unified under a new umbrella, Latin American leaders may have talked trade, peace and human rights, but can they really challenge Washington's influence? And how?

Inside Story with Adrian Finighan talks to Luis Chirino, a global radio news correspondent in Havana; John Kirk, a professor of Latin American studies at Dalhousie University, and also the former interpreter for former Canadian premier John Savage in his meetings with Fidel Castro and Aleida Guevara; and Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas, he also served at the State Department on issues of national security and congressional affairs and writes extensively for Latin American Policy.

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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