South American countries to use new currency
Members of a left-wing bloc of nine Latin American nations plan to use a new currency, dubbed the sucre, for trade among themselves from January.
No sucres will be printed or coined, but the virtual currency will be used to manage debts between governments while reducing reliance on the US dollar and on Washington in general.
Cuba signed an agreement yesterday to pay for a shipment of Venezuelan rice in sucres, said Rogelio Sierra, the island's deputy foreign minister. He would not say what the shipment was worth.
That agreement was made even as ever cash-strapped Cuba has fallen behind on its debt to nations and multi-national corporations amid the global recession.
The Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas trade group is holding a two-day summit beginning today in the Cuban capital Havana.
The group was formed by Venezuela's self-described socialist president Hugo Chavez as an alternative to US-backed free-trade consortiums. Member nations are Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Honduras, Ecuador, Bolivia, Antigua and Barbuda, San Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica.
Honduras remains part of the bloc despite a June coup that toppled leftist president Manuel Zelaya. Mr Zelaya's deposed foreign minister is attending the summit, but the acting government in Honduras will almost certainly not abide by any agreements made.
Mr Chavez was greeted on Friday as he arrived in Cuba by President Raul Castro. Cuba and Venezuela signed "agreements of co-operation" on 285 bilateral projects in 2010 totalling nearly £2 billion, according to Venezuelan energy minister Rafael Ramirez.
Presidents Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Evo Morales of Bolivia are also expected to attend the summit.