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Brazil: Rio preparing for regional summit

By CARMEN GENTILE, UPI Latin America Correspondent

RIO DE JANEIRO, Nov. 3 (UPI) -- Brazil began preparing Wednesday for the upcoming Rio Group summit -- a meeting of 19 regional nations -- bolstering security in the famous seaside city.

Some 1,800 military and police will patrol the city to increase security as leaders from the member nations, including Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, will converge on the city.

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Participating nations in the summit include Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guiana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Panama, Peru, The Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Venezuela.

The Rio Group was created in 1986 as forum to discuss social and economic development in Latin America.

The two-day meeting, set to begin Thursday, will likely touch on three key issues, according to Brazilian officials: fighting hunger and poverty in the region, the creation of a regional investment fund and the continuing peacekeeping efforts in Haiti.

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According to Ambassador Luiz Felipe Macedo Soares, Brazil's subsecretary-general to South America, the attending leaders are searching for greater commitment from nations for the U.N. mission in Haiti, which since its inception in May has become bogged down in violence perpetuated by loyalists to the ex-president and his detractors. It is the responsibility of the entire region, he said.

"We want to obtain full admission that this task of recuperating Haiti is the responsibility of everyone," said Soares Wednesday while meeting with Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim.

Brazil leads a coalition of U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti, many of the represented nations hailing from Latin America.

Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide left the country in February amid pressure from armed rebel groups to step down. A recent spike in violence has left some 80 dead. Leading up to and immediately following his departure, more than 200 people died.

Since then, natural disasters have also struck Haiti, killing more than 5,000 people in two separate bouts of flooding in the north and south of the Caribbean island nation.

The subsecretary said leaders are also likely to address the ongoing talks with the United States regarding the creation of a hemispheric trade bloc known as the Free Trade Area of the Americas. The proposed bloc would stretch from Alaska to the tip of Chile and include 34 nations. Brazil has repeatedly stood up to the Bush administration and cried foul of its economic policies as a co-leader with the United States and an informal spokesman for several small nation seeking greater access to U.S. markets. Its threats have stalled the talks and threatened the FTAA's future.

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Foreign debt repayment to lenders such as the International Monetary Fund will also likely be discussed as member nations look for ways to alleviate debt repayment burdens.

Argentina owes more than $100 billion in foreign debt that was defaulted on after its financial collapse in December 2001. Its recent suggestions for repayment schedules have drawn the ire of international creditors and will likely be at the top of the summit's economic agenda.

Leaders will also tackle the issues of proposed reforms to both the United Nations and World Trade Organization. Brazil is seeking to become the first permanent representative to from Latin America to the U.N. Security Council, the international bodies most high-profile group.

In April, South America's largest country and economy made history when the World Trade Organization sided with its complaint that U.S. subsidies for cotton farmers unfairly increased production and lowered world cotton prices, making it impossible for Brazilian cotton growers to compete. It was the first time a developing nation registered and won a complaint in the World Trade Organization against an economic powerhouse.

Two months later, the WTO upheld its previous ruling and added that not only were the subsidies unfair to Brazilian farmers, but illegal under the international body's guidelines. In October, the United States filed a formal appeal with the WTO against the ruling hoping to overturn it, though that appears unlikely.

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