Venezuela's Maduro pledges continued alliance with Cuba
HAVANA | Sun Apr 28, 2013 1:17am EDT
(Reuters) - Cuba and Venezuela signed cooperation accords on Saturday
for 51 projects as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, on his first
trip to the island since his election, pledged to maintain the close
alliance forged by his late predecessor, Hugo Chavez.
Maduro said they would jointly spend $2 billion this year on "social
development," but it was not clear if he was discussing the 51 projects,
few details of which were disclosed, or other works.
His visit appeared aimed in part at allaying Cuban worries about
post-Chavez relations with the oil-rich South American nation that is
Cuba's biggest ally and benefactor.
Venezuelan oil and money help keep the communist-ruled island's troubled
economy afloat and the governments have about 30 joint ventures, most of
them in Venezuela.
"We have come to Havana, Cuba, to say to the people of Venezuela, the
people of Cuba, all the people of Latin America ... are going to
continue working together, we came to ratify a strategic, historic
alliance that transcends time, that is more a brotherhood than an
alliance," Maduro said at a signing ceremony in Havana's main convention
Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader, told reporters he met with
former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, 86, for five hours on Saturday,
"remembering Comandante Chavez, remembering that those two built this
Maduro narrowly won an April 14 election to replace Chavez, who died on
March 5 after a long battle with cancer.
He ran basically as a Chavez surrogate who would continue his socialist
policies both at home and abroad, including a close relationship with
Cuba and Castro, whom Chavez considered his political mentor.
But his election opponent, Henrique Capriles, scored political points by
criticizing the alliance with Cuba, which combined with serious economic
problems facing Venezuela, made Cubans worry they could lose their
Cuba receives an estimated 110,000 barrels a day of Venezuelan oil in
exchange for money and the services of some 44,000 Cubans, most of them
medical personnel, in Venezuela.
In 2000, Cuba and Venezuela created an intergovernmental commission that
holds annual meetings to develop joint projects in a wide range of
areas, among them healthcare, education, culture and economics.
Cuban President Raul Castro, who spoke only briefly at the ceremony,
said that along with the 51 projects, they had agreed on memorandum of
understanding for the development and adoption of a "bilateral economic
agenda" for the next five years.
(Reporting By Jeff Franks and Rosa Tania Valdes; Editing by Peter Cooney)