Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is hosting an economic summit of 33 nations of Latin America and the Caribbean, is pushing for deeper regional ties, free of the influence from the United States.

The meeting is the first such parley of a new economic grouping calling itself the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, (CELAC).

With considerable bluster and exaggeration, Chavez has described the summit as the most important political event to have happened in our America in 100 years.”

Indeed, the U.S. and Canada were excluded from the two-day summit in Caracas, which represents Chavez first major public event since his cancer treatments in the summer.

Unlike some other economic blocs in the western hemisphere, CELAC includes Chavez’ ally, Cuba.

According to the Associated Press, Chavez envisions CELAC as the fulfillment of the dreams of South American hero Simon Bolivar of regional unity, as well as the elimination of U.S. hegemony on the continent.

This is the achievement after 200 years of battle, Chavez said. The Monroe Doctrine was imposed here: America for Americans, the Yankees. They imposed their will during 200 years, but that’s enough.

Similarly, Daniel Ortega, the president of Nicaragua, told the summit:We are sentencing the Monroe Doctrine to death.”

Chavez added: We must march toward what Bolivar called a great political body.

Sarah Grainger, a BBC correspondent in Caracas, wrote of the summit: “The U.S. and Canada were deliberately excluded from this summit, but Cuban President Raul Castro has been welcomed with open arms. The heads of state of 32 countries in the region have come to Caracas for the inauguration of the new organization. Only President [Ollanta] Humala has stayed away, amid continuing protests over mining in Peru. While U.S. exclusion from the meeting is clearly a snub to Washington, the Venezuelan government says the new organization will foster regional ties and look at ways of insulating the region from economic problems in the U.S. and Europe.”

However, two prominent attendees, Felipe Calderon, president of Mexico and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, downplayed the anti-U.S. rhetoric of Chavez and some others, while at the same time encouraging Latin unity.

Our countries are demonstrating this vocation for a common future, Rousseff said.Two hundred years ago, Caracas stood out like a light for the independence struggle. ... I believe in Bolivar’s dream.

Aside from developing economic policies independent of the U.S., CELAC also seeks to tackle other issues vital to Latin America, particularly the continuing economic development of the region and the seemingly endless battle against drug trafficking.

According to Radio Cadena Gramonte, in his inaugural address at the summit, Chavez proposed, among other things, to build a railway that links Caracas to Buenos Aires; and one that connects Bogota to Mexico.

Meanwhile, Chavez, who claims he has recovered completely from cancer following several cycles of chemotherapy treatment, plans to run for another six-year term as president in next year’s election.