Latin American leftist leaders vow to fight food price hikes

The four countries, joined in a trading bloc called ALBA, said they would step up agricultural production efforts.

Leftist leaders from four Latin American countries vowed to work together to grow more food Wednesday, blaming capitalism and speculation for soaring world prices that are hurting many poor nations.

The presidents of Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, and Cuba's vice president, launched a $100 million fund for staples such as rice, beans, and corn to mitigate sharp rises in world grain prices.

The leaders said high prices, which have sparked riots from Egypt to Haiti, were largely caused by a United States policy to make ethanol fuel from corn.

"This issue is really crucial for the future of our people, most of all to the people of the poorest countries," said Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.

The United Nations' World Food Program this week called the growing food crisis a "silent tsunami" that threatens to plunge more than 100 million people on every continent into hunger.

The four countries, joined in a trading bloc called ALBA backed by Venezuela's oil money, already work together on farm projects, but said they would step up production. "We were lucky, ALBA saw this coming," Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said. "Some projects are underway but now we have to speed them up."

Former Cuban President Fidel Castro warned over a year ago that the use of one of the world's most widespread food sources for ethanol would have dire effects on poor countries.

Mr. Chávez founded the leftist trading bloc as a counterweight to US-led free-trade agreements. He said a regional food distribution system was needed to cut out the middlemen who he says take advantage of tight supplies to increase prices.

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