Summit may help settle Latin American spats

AP News
Posted: Nov 28, 2009 8:06 AM

Latin American leaders have a chance to defuse some of their continent's political tensions at a summit opening Sunday.

The annual Iberoamerican meeting brings together 19 Latin American countries and European nations Spain, Portugal and Andorra.

Though resolving diplomatic tensions was not part of the summit's formal agenda, Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado said the quarrels "will without doubt be the topic of lots of conversations, lots of chats in the corridor and closed-door meetings."

The heads of government are also to examine ways of harnessing new technology to help Latin American economies diversify away from oil, farming and mining.

Relations between Venezuela and its neighbor Colombia, and between Honduras and Brazil, have soured in recent months.

"Our relationships have always had controversial aspects," said Enrique Iglesias, secretary-general of the Iberoamerican secretariat. "We need to sit down together, talk openly ... and help calm things down."

Venezuela and Colombia have been feuding over an agreement between Bogota and Washington that allows the U.S. military to build up its presence at seven Colombian bases under a lease agreement.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has warned that Venezuela must prepare for a possible armed conflict because he said the United States and Colombia could attack. He claims U.S. "imperialists" want to undermine his "Bolivarian Revolution" _ a political movement named after 19th-century independence hero Simon Bolivar.

Honduras' interim government last month filed a case at the U.N.'s highest court accusing Brazil of meddling in its internal affairs because Brazil permitted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, ousted in a coup last summer, to stay at its embassy in Tegucigalpa.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva have confirmed they will attend the summit in Estoril, a Portuguese coastal resort 19 miles (30 kilometers) west of the capital Lisbon. It was uncertain whether Chavez would turn up.

Organizers say they will allow only Zelaya, or an official appointed by him, to represent Honduras at the talks.

Latin American nations are keen to reduce their economic reliance on natural resources and expand investment in science and technology. Spain and Portugal, mired in economic crises but in some ways more technologically developed than Latin America, hope their close historical ties will generate new business with that continent.

"The world crisis offers a fresh opportunity to Latin America ... but it depends on their ability to innovate," Iglesias said.