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Personal, Political Clouds Gather Over EU-Latin America Summit

Leaders of the EU, Caribbean and Latin America meet for two days in Lima, Peru, for talks on topics such as trade and climate change. Meanwhile personal, political and ideological splits are on the unofficial agenda.

The National Museum, site of the EU-Latin American summit in Lima

Climate change, biofuels and the food crisis could set allies against each other in Lima

It may well be that no big decisions will be made at the summit. However, the idea of a gathering under the slogan "addressing our peoples' priorities together" is to press forward on issues of common interest, like battles against poverty and climate change.

And with 60 world leaders -- nearly one-third of the number of countries in the UN -- gathered at one place, EU officials have high hopes for at least one issue: climate change.

The European commissioners for trade and external relations, Peter Mandelson and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, say they are set to present a plan in the Peruvian capital for the fight against global warming in Latin America which they hope will get the enthusiastic support of countries like Brazil, Argentina and Mexico.

"EUrocLIMA" seeks to identify strengths and weaknesses in the fight against climate change across the region, and to "coordinate regional actions in progress, and increase their efficiency and impact," the officials said.

Ferrero-Waldner said she hopes the initiative can help Latin America and the Caribbean face the challenge, and also pointed to the rise in poverty as one of the most evident consequences of climate change around the planet.

In Lima, Brussels hopes that the three communities can act jointly to become "a world-steering force."

Nations to take sides over biofuels argument

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, center, and Portugal's Prime Minister Jose Socrates, right, smile as they arrive with Brasil's President Lula Da Silva

Biofuel fans: Brazil's Lula, the EU's Barroso, Portugal's Socrates

But while the EU will be hoping for progress on climate change, a bitter debate over biofuels, blamed by critics for high global food prices and deforestation, threatens to dominate the meeting and highlight strong differences of opinion.

On one side is the EU and Brazil, the world's largest ethanol exporter, which say biofuels can help curb reliance on oil and reduce greenhouse gases.

But many Latin American presidents -- including leftists like Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and even free-market enthusiasts like Peru's Alan Garcia -- complain biofuels are forcing up prices for corn, rice and wheat in the region and could push millions of people into deeper poverty.

"I have no doubt that the theme of food will be central to the debates of the summit," Peru's Foreign Minister Jose Garcia Belaunde said ahead of the meeting on Friday. "It's an issue that has become particularly serious."

Disagreements over biofuels could divide even ideological allies at the summit.

Experts say the global food crisis has been caused by the conversion of land to grow crops for biofuels, bad weather, surging consumption in fast-growing developing countries and higher fuel costs.

Some critics say the EU should scrap its target to have biofuels make up 10 percent of road transportation fuels by 2020, fearing the goal will contribute to social problems and the plowing of sensitive ecosystems around the world to make room for crops that can be turned into biofuels.

Even as many poor countries shy away from biofuels, they are increasingly worried about global warming and say richer countries must do more to cut carbon emissions.

Glaciers in the Andes Mountains are rapidly melting; meaning that irrigated cropland on Peru's desert coast may eventually dry out. A severe drought in the Amazon rainforest in 2005 was another warning sign that global warming could damage one of the earth's largest carbon sinks.

Social issues feature high on EU agenda

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, left, talk Venezuela's President, Hugo Chavez, center, and Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe during a Mercosur summit in Rio de Janeiro

Mercosur members: Lula, Chavez, Uribe

The EU is also likely to champion social issues at the summit but finance and trade are also on the agenda, in particular commercial agreements that parties have been seeking for years.

EU Trade Commissioner Mandelson hopes the Lima summit will speed up progress in the association agreements for political dialogue, cooperation and free trade that the EU is currently negotiating with the Andean Community of Nations and with Central America.

Negotiations with Mercosur, the South American bloc which includes Brazil and Argentina, among others, remain frozen, as Mandelson himself stressed, until the conclusion of the controversial Doha Round of talks at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Mandelson underlined the importance of such agreements at a time of global economic uncertainty, and said he hopes they will become concrete around 2009.

Based on the experience of the four previous EU-LAC summits -- Rio 1999, Madrid 2002, Guadalajara 2004 and Vienna 2006 -- Brussels can expect little more than rhetoric from the Lima gathering.

However, the EU still insists that such a summit is indeed useful.

According to Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner, it is difficult to get such high-level debate except at summits, and it then allows ministers and other officials to follow up with the real work later.

Chavez vs. Merkel: The next round

Merkel - Chavez

The row between Merkel and Chavez could escalate

The unpredictability of the political outcomes is coupled with the potential personal clashes which could feature at the summit after a build-up marked by a fair amount of mud-slinging.

The attendance of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will surely guarantee that this animosity will continue, especially after a second round of insults traded with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

He is expected in Lima on Thursday evening after his attendance was shrouded in doubt.

Chavez, battling accusations from his US-backed neighbor Colombia that he sought to arm the Marxist guerrilla group FARC and still smarting from being told to shut up by Spain's King Juan Carlos at a summit in November, had cast doubt on whether he will attend.

But the chill could run deeper between Chavez and Merkel in the light of their ongoing war of words.

Insults traded in run-up to summit

Angela Merkel

Chavez accuses Merkel of "throwing stones"

Merkel last week said "Chavez is not the voice of Latin America," and urged the countries in the region to distance themselves from him.

Chavez responded by saying Merkel "is from the German right, the same movement that supported Hitler and the same movement that supported fascism."

Then on Wednesday, Chavez accused Merkel of groundlessly bombarding him "with stones," continuing a war of words.

On Tuesday the Venezuelan government issued a statement stressing that Merkel is not the EU's only voice and demanded "respect" from Germany.

While on a visit to an oil field in the central state of Guarico with Portugal's Prime Minister Jose Socrates, Chavez said he had made those comments to President Lula da Silva of Brazil in a telephone conversation.

"He (Lula) said to me that he would equally receive the German Chancellor. And I said, please greet her from me. She comes here and throws stones, for reasons I do not know, some European heads of state come in order to meet with us, and already before their arrival are throwing stones."

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