PORLAMAR, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi urged African and South American leaders on Saturday to strive for a new world order countering Western economic dominance.
They spoke on the first day of a 28-nation summit that was long on idealistic speeches but short on concrete steps beyond an agreement to set up a development bank for South America with $7 billion in start-up capital.
“This is the beginning of the salvation of our people,” Chavez said in a speech welcoming his guests to the Caribbean island of Margarita.
He said the meeting, coming just after the U.N. General Assembly in New York and the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh, would help the mainly poor nations rely less on Europe and the United States.
“The 21st century won’t be a bipolar world, it won’t be unipolar. It will be multipolar. Africa will be an important geographic, economic and social pole. And South America will be too,” Chavez said.
The leftist leader has governed for more than 10 years and says he wants to remain in office for decades more to turn the OPEC nation into a socialist state. He casts himself as at the front of a global, “anti-imperialist” movement.
Gaddafi, who is celebrating four decades in office and had a white limousine flown to Venezuela to meet him at the airport, echoed his host’s message.
“The world isn’t the five countries on the U.N. Security Council,” he said. “The world’s powers want to continue to hold on to their power. When they had the chance to help us, they treated us like animals, destroyed our land. Now we have to fight to build our own power.”
Other leaders, from influential developing nations like Brazil and South Africa, also gave sweeping, critical summaries of global problems, though in less radical terms.
Analysts say Brazil and South Africa’s model of business-friendly economics mixed with a focus on helping the poor is more popular among many African countries than Chavez’s revolutionary approach.
The leaders are expected to sign a document on Sunday urging global bodies like the United Nations and World Bank to give poor countries more clout.
Chavez, hoping for the creation of an alternative to multilateral lenders like the International Monetary Fund, said South American countries had agreed to start the regional development bank, Banco del Sur with $7 billion. Earlier he said it would be funded with $20 billion, but Venezuelan officials clarified it could rise to that amount over time.
“Lula, now we need to find the money!” he joked to Brazilian leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
On the eve of the summit, Venezuela caused a stir by saying it was working with ally Iran to find uranium in the South American nation.
But Venezuelan Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez sought to play down the issue on Saturday, telling Reuters the country had not developed a plan to explore or exploit its uranium deposits.
Ramirez did not respond when asked what role Iran was playing and said Venezuela was only working with Russia to develop nuclear energy which he said would be used for peaceful means.
Analysts say Venezuela is more than a decade away from developing nuclear power.
Chavez says he opposes nuclear weapons but insists the developed world does not have the right to stop other countries from developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
Venezuela’s opposition called Chavez irresponsible for reaching out to what it said were unsavory regimes around the globe.
“Venezuela’s dangerous friendship with autocratic and totalitarian governments like Belarus, Sudan, Libya, Zimbabwe, show Chavez’s irresponsibility in seeking ties and alliances at any cost, without regard to the pariah state of these regimes,” opposition group Mesa Unitaria said in a statement.