Leaders from 33 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean gathered in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas on Friday to participate in the historic founding summit of a new regional bloc.With grand words, the leaders described the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) as an important organization for the region's growing independence and influence in global affairs.Addressing the opening session of the summit, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez hailed the creation of CELAC as a milestone for the region's development and sovereign policy."Let's go forward with no hesitation. This is the way. The union and only the union will set us free and independent," he said.Chavez called on all countries to take advantage of this "critical moment in history to overcome the differences and struggle against imperialist mediation."Latin America, with huge untapped potential for business and development, "is a land of giant males and females," he said, referring to the men and women who have long been fighting for the region's integration."Today with this Latin American unity, we are pronouncing the death sentence to the Monroe Doctrine," said Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega, referring to a U.S. policy in the 19th century that many Latin Americans regarded as a bid to justify Washington's meddling in the region.With the creation of CELAC, which includes all countries in the Americas except the United States and Canada, Latin American leaders want to establish a forum similar to that of the Organization of American States, but without the political influence of the U.S. foreign policy."Time has come for us to have a forum that belongs to us and which is closer to our reality, and I am looking forward to taking this historic step forward for our region," Ecuador's President Rafael Correa said.Cuban leader Raul Castro said the founding of CELAC is "the biggest independence event of our time."In his speech, Mexican President Felipe Calderon called on his Latin American counterparts to make efforts to defense democracy, human rights and peace.Calderon said coordinated efforts should be made by all countries in the region to curb poverty, protect environment, generate prosperity and fight against crime, adding that the creation of CELAC will "without any doubt" help regional leaders overcome many of the challenges.Sixteen presidents, eight prime ministers and nine high-level representatives attended the opening ceremony of the summit in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas.The participants were then expected to hold plenary sessions at a military installation in southwest Caracas, where they are expected to sign CELAC's founding documents and declaration.The idea of CELAC was initiated in February 2010 at a regional summit in the Mexican resort of Cancun.