- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 27, 2009

PORLAMAR, Venezuela | About 30 African and South American leaders sought to build on their alliances Saturday at a summit that gave Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez a chance to extend his influence across the Atlantic.

Libya’s leader, Col. Moammar Gadhafi, on his first visit to the Americas, set up camp in a trademark Bedouin tent and met with Mr. Chavez inside it Friday night. Other leaders also held talks in private ahead of the summit’s start.

The two-day meeting on Venezuela’s Margarita Island is aimed at addressing a wide range of common concerns, from poverty solutions to calls for reform at the United Nations.

Mr. Chavez has called it “a summit of great importance for the struggles of the South.”

Leaders are discussing plans for cooperation in energy, trade, finance, agriculture, mining, education and other areas.

“Africa and South America - We’re going to form two of the large poles of power in that … multipolar world that has begun to be born,” Mr. Chavez said as he arrived for the summit Friday night. He said that by uniting, the two regions can confront a legacy of poverty left “by the empires of the North - by the empires of Europe, by the U.S. empire.”

The meeting gives Mr. Chavez an opportunity to attempt a greater leadership role outside Latin America while critiquing U.S. influence and promoting socialist-inspired policies.

“South-South” cooperation has been a buzzword at the summit, which brings together two regional blocs: the African Union and South America’s fledgling Union of South American Nations, known by its Spanish acronym, Unasur.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez expressed hope that Africa will expand its potential to produce and export food and said her government is willing to provide technology and expertise toward that end.

African leaders, including Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika, gathered at a beachside hotel amid crowds of bodyguards and aides. South American presidents from Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to Bolivia’s Evo Morales were also attending.

Mr. Chavez called Col. Gadhafi and Mr. Bouteflika historic “liberators” of their countries and said socialism - both in Africa and in Latin America - will be “the path to the world’s salvation.”

A first, smaller gathering of African and Latin American leaders was held in Nigeria in 2006. The timing this year - immediately after the U.N. General Assembly in New York and Group of 20 economic summit in Pittsburgh - suggests it may turn out to be a forum for many non-G-20 nations to respond to and focus on their concerns about the way the global financial crisis is being handled.

Deals to work together in tapping energy and mineral resources are also expected. Mr. Chavez already has announced that Venezuela may help build an oil refinery in Mauritania that could process 30,000 to 40,000 barrels per day and supply fuel to Mali, Niger and Gambia.

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