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Ortega leads anti-U.S. critique at Latin American food summit

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"It is not surprising that a lot of anger is being aimed at the United States, and not surprising that Chávez and his allies in ALBA are trying to take advantage of the region's sense of frustration and vulnerability," says Michael Shifter, vice president of Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think tank. "Central America is looking for other options; there is a sense that its fate is tied too closely to the United States."

Now, under ALBA, a cooperation agreement among Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Bolivia, the leftist leaders are trying to make inroads into neighboring countries.

At the conclusion of Wednesday's summit, in which the various government leaders followed Ortega's lead in blaming the food crisis on the US and other "developed countries," all but two participating nations signed a joint resolution that incorporated specific language supporting ALBA. Costa Rica and El Salvador, the two most conservative governments at the summit, abstained from signing the pact.

"This was a propaganda campaign for ALBA," says Nicaraguan political analyst Cirilo Otero. "There were no concrete solutions, just political show."

Still, Ortega and Chávez, who failed to show at the Nicaraguan summit at the last minute for health reasons, appeared to win some converts during the meeting.

Honduras's center-left President Manuel Zelaya, who has flirted with ALBA in the past, blamed the regional food crisis on a free-market economic model that he says has led to a "culture of dependence" on cheaper food imports from subsidized US farmers.

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