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LatAm leaders in food price pact

Cuban farmers sowing potatoes, January 2008
Cuba is among several countries dependent on food imports

Four Latin American leaders, meeting in Caracas, have agreed on a $100m (50m) scheme to combat the impact of rising food prices on the region's poor.

The presidents of Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela and Cuba's vice-president also agreed on joint programmes to promote the development of agriculture.

Global food prices have risen in response to extra fuel costs and increased demand from India and China.

The summit also blamed a US push for increased production of biofuels.

Summit host, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, said the food crisis was "the biggest demonstration of the historic failure of the capitalist model".

This issue is really crucial for the future of our people, most of all to the people of the poorest countries
Daniel Ortega

He told fellow leaders that they needed to create a distribution network "so we don't fall into the hands of intermediaries and speculators, which stop millions from receiving food"

Few details of how the programme will work were given at the summit.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said: "This issue is really crucial for the future of our people, most of all to the people of the poorest countries."

Mr Ortega said that in the last year the price of rice had increased by 70% and the price of wheat by 130% and that the social impact these rises was already being felt across the world.

'Silent tsunami'

Mr Chavez and Mr Ortega were joined at the summit by Cuban Vice-President Carlos Lage and President Evo Morales of Bolivia.

All four countries comprise the ALBA trading bloc, which was formed by Mr Chavez as an alternative to US-backed free-trade agreements.

Correspondents say import-dependent countries, in particular Cuba, have been hit by the rise in global food prices.

Venezuela, too, suffers from shortages. Mr Chavez blames them on local businesses, but critics point to government price controls.

The increases, dubbed by the United Nations World Food Programme a "silent tsunami", have sparked riots in some countries, including Haiti, Cameroon and Indonesia.

The UN warns that high prices are expected to continue despite increased production.




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