Members of a leftist bloc of nine Latin American nations said Saturday they plan to use a new currency dubbed the "sucre" for trade among themselves starting in January.
No sucres will be printed or coined, but the virtual currency will be used to manage debts between governments while reducing reliance on the U.S. dollar and on Washington in general.
Cuba already signed an agreement on Saturday to pay for a shipment of Venezuelan rice in sucres, according to Rogelio Sierra, the island's deputy foreign minister. He declined to say what the shipment was worth.
That agreement was made even as ever cash-strapped Cuba has fallen behind on its debt to nations and multinational corporations amid the global recession.
The Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas trade group is holding a two-day summit starting Sunday in the Cuban capital.
The group was formed by Venezuela's self-described socialist president, Hugo Chavez, as an alternative to U.S.-backed free-trade consortiums. Member nations are Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Honduras, Ecuador, Bolivia, Antigua and Barbuda, San Vincent and the Grenadines, and Dominica.
Honduras remains part of the bloc despite a June coup that toppled leftist President Manuel Zelaya. Zelaya's deposed foreign minister is attending the summit, but the acting government in Honduras will almost certainly not abide by any agreements made.
Chavez was greeted Friday as he arrived in Cuba by President Raul Castro. Cuba and Venezuela signed "agreements of cooperation" on 285 bilateral projects in 2010 totaling nearly US$3.2 billion, according to Venezuelan Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez. He provided no details on what those agreements entail, however.
On Saturday, Raul Castro said the cooperation between the countries will allow them to "alleviate the negative impact of the current world economic crisis."
Leftist presidents Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Evo Morales of Bolivia are expected to attend the summit.