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South American leaders propose union

South American leaders agreed Saturday to create a high-level commission to study the idea of forming a continentwide community similar to the European Union.

The presidents and envoys of 12 nations wrapped up a two-day summit of the South American Community of Nations, hosted by Bolivian President Evo Morales in Cochabamba.

The leaders agreed to form a study group in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to look at the possibility of creating a continentwide union, and even a South American Parliament.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a former metalworker who was re-elected in October, assured his fellow leaders that the group could rise above its historical divisions to unite the continent, though the process would not be easy.

The result left Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, long an agitator for the region taking a greater role on the world stage, pleased but impatient.

"We need a political Viagra," Chavez said. "Look, we make decisions and we don't have the power to execute them. They're stuck in these pyramids of paper."

Morales opened Saturday's roundtable by calling for the leaders to close "the open veins of Latin America," referring to Eduardo Galeano's famous 1971 book decrying foreign capitalist exploitation. But how to stanch the economic bleeding was a matter of debate.

Chile's Socialist President Michelle Bachelet, whose country has a free-trade agreement with the United States, urged South American leaders to take advantage of the world economy while minimizing the impact of open trade on the poor.

Chavez, however, expressed blunt opposition to Washington-backed free market prescriptions and boasted that leftists in the region have "buried" U.S. hopes of a hemispheric free trade-agreement, an effort launched a decade ago.