HAVANA (AP) _ Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he was going straight to Fidel Castro's side after arriving Thursday in Cuba for the Nonaligned Movement summit, and that the Cuban leader's recovery from intestinal surgery has been remarkable.
``If you saw Fidel riding a horse here, you would think he's the Man from La Mancha,'' Chavez said. ``Fidel has always been a Quixotic figure. But this Don Quixote is victorious and invincible.''
Chavez also said that with his close friend in charge, the group representing two-thirds of the world's nations will be much stronger. Cuba takes over the three-year chairmanship of the movement from Malaysia this week.
Castro made an appearance of sorts on the summit's sidelines when state television showed photos of him chatting with an old friend, Argentine congressman Miguel Bonasso, in Castro's home in Havana. Bonasso described Castro as much improved in a first-person article about their encounter in the Pagina/12 newspaper Thursday.
``It may sound incredible, but Fidel was as lucid and penetrating as ever,'' Bonasso wrote.
Castro praised Chavez as a world leader who is making major changes to benefit his people in a democratic way, Bonasso said. ``Chavez has been creating an indestructible model. He does not represent an extreme form of socialism, but a realistic one,'' he quoted Castro as saying.
Chavez has already met with Castro three times since the 80-year-old Cuban leader announced on July 31 that he had undergone intestinal surgery and was temporarily ceding power to his 75-year-old brother, Defense Minister Raul Castro.
Bolivian President Evo Morales also arrived early Thursday, joining an array of U.S. critics whose appearances in Cuba were expected to shape a contentious debate at next week's U.N. General Assembly session over Iran's nuclear ambitions and Venezuela's efforts to join the Security Council.
The summit also has provided a fresh look at the collective leadership that has emerged during Fidel Castro's recovery. Raul has taken on his brother's protocol role, meeting with the leaders of Malaysia, Algeria, Vietnam, while several other top Cuban officials have given forceful speeches.
Also on the sidelines, the Group of 15 developing nations was convening Thursday. Initially set up to foster cooperation with international groups such as the World Trade Organization, the G-15 has since grown to include 18 members: Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Jamaica, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.
One country that won't take part is the United States, which declined an invitation to attend as an observer. A press officer at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana said they wouldn't comment on any matters discussed at the summit.
Still, the policies of President Bush have come up repeatedly. Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon accused the U.S. of breaking its own pledge to fight terrorism by harboring Luis Posada Carriles, former CIA operative and militant Castro foe wanted in Venezuela for the bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people.
``George W. Bush has said it, the White House said it: 'States that harbor terrorists are as guilty as the terrorists,'' Alarcon said. ``Then I ask, why does a federal judge decide that Posada Carriles can be set free?''
Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage also singled out the United States as he exhorted the movement to use peace and cooperation to achieve its goals.
``Amid wars and threats of more wars, the world in which we live is each day more unjust and unequal,'' Lage said. ``The end of the East-West confrontation was not the beginning of the peace that many of us dreamed of. ... The real history has been that of a growing dominance of a nation that is unscrupulously exercising economic and political pressures.''
The Nonaligned Movement developed during the Cold War as an alternative in a world divided by the United States and Soviet Union, and grows to 118 members this week with the addition of the Caribbean states of Haiti and St. Kitts.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will attend as an observer, and also was expected to meet personally with Fidel Castro before returning to New York for the U.N. assembly.
Others attending include Presidents Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, and Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, as well as Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh of India and Thaksin Shinawatra of Thailand. North Korea said it is sending its No. 2, parliament leader Kim Yong Nam.