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MEXICO CITY: Latin American and Caribbean nations should form a block similar to the European Union, Mexico’s president proposed on Saturday at a regional summit, in a bid to wrest diplomatic influence away from the Washington-based Organization of American States.

The host of the summit, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, told nearly 20 presidents and prime ministers attending the meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) at the gathering’s opening ceremony that the block could better boost the region’s economies.

“In these times, CELAC can become the principal instrument to consolidate relations between our Latin American and Caribbean nations,” he said at the opening ceremony, touting the European Union as an ideal to follow.

The leaders gathered at the invitation of Mexico’s leftist president with a stated aim of weakening the Washington-based Organization of American States, the long-standing regional body that excludes Cuba.

In his remarks, Bolivian President Luis Arce called for a global agreement to lower debts for poor countries while Cuba’s Miguel Diaz-Canel spoke out for an end to the US trade embargo against the communist-run island.

Venezuela’s late President Hugo Chavez helped set up CELAC in 2011.

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