Cuba, Venezuela dominate Caribbean unity summit despite leaders' absence

Choosing sides.

PANAMA CITY, Panama - Cuba and Venezuela led opposition to free market policies Friday, but Mexican President Vicente Fox called for a "strategic alliance" based on free trade in an ideological clash at the Summit of Caribbean States. Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage also lashed out at the U.S. war on terror, which he called "a campaign of pillage," and said "the recent terror attacks in Madrid and London prove that you can't defeat terrorism with terrorism." Venezuela won praise with offers of oil on easy terms or in exchange for local products, while Cuba offered free medical care as part of efforts to broaden President Hugo Chavez's leftist "Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas."

Chavez, an outspoken critic of President Bush and friend of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, has used the name of 19th century South American independence hero Simon Bolivar to describe the vaguely socialist, stridently anti-Washington program he has championed in Venezuela. "Venezuela has given the world, and especially the Caribbean, an example of solidarity and brotherhood," Lage told the 25-member Association of Caribbean States, or ACS. "Venezuela and Cuba have taken the first steps toward the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas."