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Summit plan clouded by flap over Cuba
by Staff Writers
Bogota, Colombia (UPI) Mar 8, 2012

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

Plans for a Latin American summit in Colombia are in disarray after a diplomatic flap that means Cuba may be barred from taking part.

Cuba's participation in the April 14-15 Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, is opposed by the United States. The U.S. position contrasts with increasing diplomatic activity between Cuba and its Latin American neighbors.

Brazil pledged a multibillion-dollar aid package to help Cuba's transition to a market economy and other Central and South American nations are building bridges with Havana as it moves slowly toward economic and trade liberalization.

Cuba is still under U.S. sanctions, the longest such sanctions in history. But trade deals signed by President Raul Castro and his senior aides have thrown new lifelines to the Communist Party government. Many reforms that encourage private enterprise run counter to the Communist Party line but the government plans to introduce more of them in the coming months while carrying on with its ideological rhetoric.

The shifting mood in Latin America was reflected in the diplomatic activity that followed U.S. objections to Cuba's participation. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos flew to Havana for talks that aimed to explain to the Castro brothers why Cuba couldn't attend and to make sure the rejection didn't cause offense.

Santos met the Castros and then talked with ailing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, in Havana for cancer treatment.

There's no reaction yet from Chavez or from Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who on an earlier visit to Havana who pledged several billion dollars in aid for Cuba.

Cuba's exclusion from the conference is threatening to overshadow the mid-April talks.

Santos said Cuba wasn't invited because a consensus on its participation couldn't be reached. He thanked the Castro brothers for their tacit agreement not to stir up trouble.

But trouble may still lie ahead, because support for Cuba is growing in Latin American countries outside the left-wing bloc backed by Chavez and other populist leaders.

The conference is an example of shifting sands, analysts said. The Americas summit has traditionally drawn bulk of support from the Organization of American States, which has headquarters in Washington. More recently, the populist bloc of nations grouped in the Venezuela-backed Bolivarian Alliance has sought to influence conference proceedings.

ALBA includes Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Venezuela. Both Nicaragua and Venezuela have said they want Cuba to attend.

Tensions over the Cuba issue have remained understated because of Santos' diplomatic brinkmanship. Colombia is a close U.S. ally but has cultivated both Cuba and Venezuela, staunch critics of successive U.S. administrations.

Venezuelan aides told Caracas media that Chavez intended to return home after the latest round of cancer treatment and would attend the Cartagena conference.

Chavez, 57, is seeking a third six-year term in Oct. 7 presidential election but has seen his campaign weakened by his illness and the opposition's decision to present a united front with a single candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski, 39. Capriles won February primaries with more than 62 percent of the vote.

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Argentine exports at risk from docker row
Buenos Aires (UPI) Mar 7, 2012 - Argentina's multibillion- dollar export trade is increasingly at risk from a wage dispute with dockworkers that President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner seems in no rush to resolve.

Grain prices spiked last week as more than 150 grain-laden vessels lay idle outside Argentina's ports and along the Uruguayan coast but neither side appeared nearer a compromise.

Dockworkers' representatives warned Fernandez they would launch a general strike unless the government met their demands for improved wages and easier taxation rules.

The work stoppages sent shock waves through the soy meal trade, which is central to international supplies of animal feed, soy oil production and a growing biofuels energy sector.

Worried traders also predicted worsening prospects for soybeans and corn trade because of the Latin American country's leading position in those two grain markets. Argentina is the world's third largest supplier of soybeans and the No. 2 corn exporter after the United States.

Port authorities received a tongue-lashing from the dockworkers' representatives after they announced -- prematurely -- a work stoppage had ended and the dockworkers had gone back to work.

Dockworkers' union leader Omar Suarez denied members had returned to work and vowed to prevent ships from entering or leaving the harbor at Rosario, the country's main grain hub.

The union says dockworkers' work shifts are understaffed, forcing those called on duty to perform extra tasks and sometimes work longer hours.

The dockworkers' discontent has combined with farmers' protests and teachers' strikes to inject new uncertainties in Argentine economy and society.

So far the labor leaders have said a general strike would be a last resort but warned that government inaction may push them toward calling for countrywide industrial action.

"I hope we don't come to call for a general strike," CGT labor union leader Hugo Moyano told reporters. "I hope we're not pushed to call for a general strike."

At the heart of the dispute is the government's interpretation of the cost of living, the rate of inflation and consumer price index in Argentina. Government statistics of inflation and the consumer price index are generally believed to be about a third of the actual trends -- currently said to exceed 25 percent.

The government has also attracted the teachers' ire after Fernandez claimed the teachers worked too few hours -- four hours a day, one of her comments alleged -- and claimed long vacations.

The labor unions' representations have backed the teachers' demands and urged the government to be "reasonable" in its approach to various sections of Argentina's work force.

Nowhere is the threat to the economy more pronounced than in the ports, where traders fret over millions of dollars of grain trade at risk from the prolonged dispute.


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US Congress approves China subsidy duties
Washington (AFP) March 6, 2012
The US Congress voted Tuesday to authorize renewed tariffs on billions of dollars worth of goods from China and other countries considered to be state-run economies, a move aimed at countering unfair subsidies. The measure approved by lawmakers fixes a tariff scheme in place since 2007 on imports from "non-market economies" that was struck down by a court ruling in December. With support ... read more

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