Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is promoting the creation of a new regional bloc of Latin American and Caribbean countries, calling it an important step toward independence from world powers like the U.S.
Chavez said during a meeting with Latin American foreign ministers Tuesday that he agrees with former Cuban President Fidel Castro that the formation of the new bloc would be "the political event of the greatest importance" for the region in the last century.
The proposed Community of Latin American and Caribbean States would comprise "all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean without the United States, without Canada," Chavez said.
That would make the new group a potential alternative to the Washington-based Organization of American States, which Chavez contends is dominated by the United States.
He spoke to supporters on television after addressing foreign ministers from several countries, including Argentina, Ecuador and Bolivia, who met in Caracas to lay the groundwork for a regional summit in Venezuela in July.
Representatives of 32 countries who attended another summit in Mexico last year expressed support for creating the group, and diplomats at Tuesday's meeting reiterated their nations' willingness to participate.
"We're sure that this year ... we will establish the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States," Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota said during the meeting.
He said Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is committed to "our collective efforts to continue coordinating and raising our international profile."
Chavez said the new integration effort is inspired in part by the attempts of 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar to unite South American countries.
"This is something of the greatest transcendence. It's Bolivar's dream," said Chavez, who accuses the U.S. government of persistent meddling in the affairs of Latin American nations.
"Unity is vital to consolidate our total and everlasting independence from colonial and world powers that always attempt to dominate, exploit and steal from us," Chavez said. "Enough of colonialism! We want freedom!"