Saturday, September 16, 2006

Raul Castro, Hugo Chavez star at summit

Acting Cuban President Raul Castro (1st row center) waves after a group photograph was taken of the members attending the 14th Non-Aligned Movement Nations Summit Friday, Sept. 15, 2006 in Havana, Cuba. The Non Aligned Movement has currently 116 member countries (53 of Africa, 38 of Asia, 24 of Latin America and the Caribbean and one from Europe (Belarus). Photograph by : Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Sept. 16, 2006, 3:40AM

By OLGA R. RODRIGUEZ Associated Press Writer

HAVANA — World leaders at the Nonaligned Movement summit agreed on the need to make the United Nations more democratic, with Raul Castro sitting in for his ailing older brother and leading a chorus of criticism of the United States' veto power in the Security Council.

With Fidel Castro out of sight, Raul presided over Friday's meeting of two-thirds of the world's nations, rallying some of the most outspoken U.S. foes with a speech blaming America for much of the planet's woes.

"When there no longer is a Cold War, the United States spends one billion dollars a year in weapons and soldiers and it squanders a similar amount in commercial publicity," he said. "To think that a social and economic order that has proven unsustainable could be maintained by force is simply an absurd idea."

In speech after speech, leaders of the world's less powerful nations said reforming the U.N. Security Council to balance U.S. veto power should be their key priority.

"The U.S. is turning the security council into a base for imposing its politics," Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, echoing comments by Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Belarus and many others. "Why should people live under the nuclear threat of the U.S.?"

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who has been trying to manage a showdown between the United States and Iran over the Islamic country's nuclear program, agreed the Security Council must be more responsive to less powerful countries.

"The Security Council must reform _ for the sake of the developing world, and for the sake of the United Nations itself," Annan told the Nonaligned leaders. "The perception of a narrow power-base risks leading to an erosion of the U.N.'s authority and legitimacy _ even, some would argue, its neutrality and independence. I have in the past described this as a democracy deficit."

Annan also told the group that the world has changed dramatically since Cuba last hosted the movement in Havana 27 years ago, and that developing nations have new responsibilities to promote democracy, protect human rights and develop civil societies.

"The collective mission of this movement is more relevant than ever," Annan said.

Many leaders also said the movement will be much stronger with Cuba in charge, but it was unclear whether the 80-year-old Castro has recovered enough from intestinal surgery to make an appearance at the summit, let alone guide the group during the next three years. The ailing leader was under doctors' orders not to preside over the summit, Cuban officials said.

While Raul had his first opportunity to show his leadership qualities before a large audience, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez repeatedly asserted himself as Castro's natural heir.

With next week's U.N. General Assembly session looming, Chavez and Ahmadinejad called on Nonaligned nations to support Venezuela's bid to win the next rotating spot on the Security Council. The United States, uneasy about Venezuela's close ties to Cuba and Iran, has supported Guatemala's bid.

"To be radical is not to be insane, it's to go to our roots. Let's go to our roots, let's be truly radical," Chavez declared, concluding one speech with a favorite Castro rallying cry: "Patria o Muerte!" _ "Fatherland or Death!"

Guatemalan Vice President Eduardo Stein told The Associated Press his country has secured 90 of 128 necessary votes, and denied that U.S. support for Guatemala's bid has made his country a "puppet" of Washington. Venezuela, however, is confident it will win the seat.

Guatemala has stressed its conciliatory foreign policy in the U.N. campaign, while Chavez has made it clear that if chosen, Venezuela would support Iran in its nuclear standoff.

Several difficult disputes were addressed on the sidelines. Bolivian President Evo Morales suspended a threat to increase control over Brazilian energy assets in Bolivia. India and Pakistan planned to meet, possibly reviving peace talks over their disputed border. And Cuba was trying to bring Morocco and the Western Saharan separatist movement to some agreement.

The Nonaligned Movement was formed during the Cold War to establish a neutral third path in a world divided by the United States and the Soviet Union. With Haiti and St. Kitts joining this week, it now counts 118 member nations.

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