By JORGE RUEDA, Associated Press
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and other leaders in the left-leaning ALBA bloc backed Argentina on Saturday in its long-running dispute with Britain over the Falkland Islands.
Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman thanked Chavez and other presidents for their support at the meeting in Caracas.
"The issue of the Malvinas Islands is an issue that concerns us, especially with the strong language that has emerged from the British government, accusing Argentina of being colonialist," Chavez said, calling it "the world in reverse."
The dispute heated up recently when Prince William, a Royal Air Force helicopter pilot, was assigned to the islands on an upcoming military tour along with a warship in the run-up to the 30th anniversary of Argentina's April 1982 invasion, which sparked a 10-week war.
Argentina, which claims Britain stole the archipelago from it 180 years ago, calls them the Malvinas Islands and has protested the British deployment.
The eight member countries of the Bolivarian Alliance bloc, or ALBA, approved an agreement barring any boats flying Falkland Islands flags from docking in their ports.
"I'm speaking only for Venezuela, but if it occurs to the British empire to attack Argentina, Argentina won't be alone this time," Chavez said.
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa suggested the countries take stronger measures. "We have to talk about sanctions," Correa said.
Argentina hopes diplomatic and economic measures will pressure Britain to comply with United Nations resolutions encouraging both countries to negotiate the islands' sovereignty. British leaders have refused to do that.
Turning to economic matters, Chavez told the group of presidents that their countries should work together to strengthen their economies to withstand global troubles. He called for "a more ambitious project" in economic cooperation.
"The economic issue is first on the agenda. You all see how the world is. There's a terrible crisis," Chavez told the presidents, including Cuba's Raul Castro and Bolivia's Evo Morales, among others.
Chavez said countries within the ALBA group should expand their use of a virtual currency known as the Sucre for trade. Chavez has promoted the Sucre since 2010 as an accounting unit to replace the dollar for some trade. Venezuela has used the system to pay for some of its food imports from Bolivia and Ecuador.
Correa complained that thus far the bloc's economic plans "don't advance more quickly."
Also attending the televised meeting were the leaders of ALBA members Nicaragua, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, along with nonmember Haiti.
Chavez said Suriname's president, Desi Bouterse, would arrive on Sunday to join the meeting.