Dec 15, 2008

World - Castro in Caracas on first presidential trip

CARACAS: Raul Castro began his first foreign trip as Cuba’s President in Venezuela on Saturday, a trip aimed at strengthening ties with Cuba’s ally and main benefactor.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a long-time ally of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, says he is building “21st century socialism” in Venezuela. He told Mr. Raul Castro: “I say that Fidel is my father and Raul is my uncle.”

The leaders agreed to cooperate on 173 joint projects worth more than $2 billion in areas such as energy and communications, deepening an entrenched relationship that has irritated officials in Washington.

“We didn’t come to this brother country to receive honours,” said Mr. Castro, adding that Latin American relations have changed dramatically since Mr. Chavez and Mr. Fidel Castro first signed a cooperation agreement eight years ago. “But to give tribute to a people who have stuck with Cuba through a very difficult moment,” he added. He offered Mr. Chavez and the Venezuelan people “a hug” from Mr. Fidel Castro. “There is a revolution on this continent, Raul,” said Mr. Chavez, referring to a wave of leftist governments elected in Latin America.

Mr. Chavez presented Mr. Castro with a gold-plated replica of a sword that once belonged Bolivar. Mr. Castro’s visit to Cuba’s main ally in the region comes shortly after he offered to meet with U.S. President-elect Barack Obama. Mr. Chavez also said he hopes Mr. Obama will make good on his promise to close Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba after taking office.

“I bring a salute, a hug for all Venezuelans from the Cuban people and from the leader of the revolution, comrade Fidel Castro,” said Mr. Castro.

Venezuela sells Cuba about 90,000 barrels of crude oil per day on preferential terms, and hopes to increase shipments to 1,50,000 barrels per day by 2013. — AP

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