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Last Updated: Saturday, 29 April 2006, 22:03 GMT 23:03 UK
Leftist trio seals Americas pact
Presidents Fidel Castro of Cuba (L), Evo Morales of Bolivia and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
Socialist presidents of Latin America unite
The left-wing leaders of Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela have signed a three-way trade agreement aimed at countering US influence in Latin America.

The pact was signed in Cuba by Bolivian President Evo Morales, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, and their host Fidel Castro.

The initiative, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, was drawn up by Cuba and Venezuela.

Mr Morales, an ally of both Mr Castro and Mr Chavez, decided to join it after his election last December.

The initiative - known by its Spanish acronym Alba - is being promoted as a socialist alternative to the Washington-backed Free Trade Area of the Americas.

Now, for the first time, there are three of us - I believe that, one day, all [Latin American] countries can be here
Fidel Castro
The deal aims to reduce or eliminate tariffs between the three countries. But apart from this, it is very unlike conventional trade agreements, the BBC's Stephen Gibbs in Havana says.

Participants have vowed to work towards the eradication of illiteracy and the expansion of employment.

Cuba has promised to help Bolivia provide free eye treatment to those Bolivians who otherwise would not be able to afford it.

Venezuela has agreed to provide at preferential rates all the subsidised oil Bolivia requires for its domestic consumption.

More takers?

Our correspondent says closer integration between oil-rich Venezuela and gas-rich Bolivia will give the new pact added weight.

The question now is who else they can persuade to join, he adds.

After the signing, Fidel Castro said: "Now, for the first time, there are three of us - I believe that, one day, all [Latin American] countries can be here."

After his arrival in Cuba on Friday, Mr Morales said the meeting was a was a "historic gathering of three generations and three revolutions".

Mr Chavez has vowed to create economic and political unity in South America without the help of Washington.

Earlier this month he took Venezuela out of the South American trade bloc, the Andean Community of Nations, saying it was overly aligned with the US.

See the trade deal being signed

Venezuela quits Andean trade bloc
20 Apr 06 |  Business
South America blocs in trade deal
19 Oct 04 |  Business
Andean nations seek trade boost
28 Jun 03 |  Americas
South American unity pledge
19 Jun 03 |  Americas
Country profile: Venezuela
25 Feb 06 |  Country profiles

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