Cuba, Venezuela Extend Ties

Cuba and Venezuela extended their ties on Wednesday with a raft of economic accords, including an underwater fibre optics cable plan meant to bypass a U.S. embargo.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuba's Vice President Carlos Lage signed deals to develop a range of production projects involving nickel, electricity and rice as well as the construction within two years of the cable between the two Caribbean nations.

In his absence, the two officials still sought to give Castro centre stage.

Cuba's Vice president Carlos Lage, left, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Caracas

At the signing ceremony, Chavez from a letter he said his mentor Castro wrote to him this week about the countries' integration deals, which sustain their anti-U.S. alliance.

He showed the Cuban leader's signature and said it was evidence that reports Castro was dying were false. Spanish newspaper El Pais reported this month Castro's recovery has been complicated by a series of failed surgeries.

"We are really pleased, Fidel, with the news that we have received about your recovery," Chavez said. "Lage told me Fidel walked for I don't know how many minutes yesterday (Tuesday). And he's walking more than I am, almost trotting."

Lage said Castro would be around for "a long time to come" and joked he would outlast his younger brother Raul Castro, who has been in charge of Cuba after Fidel had stomach surgery last year. Despite U.S. pressure, the country remained united during Castro's illness, he added.

Chavez, who opposes Washington on policies ranging from oil price to free trade to democracy, increasingly favours ideological allies such as Iran and Cuba in economic deals and is seeking to strip managing stakes away from Western giants such as Chevron and Exxon Mobil.

Economists say Chavez's cheap oil props up the Cuban economy the way the Soviet Union did before its collapse.

Venezuela's opposition regularly accuses Chavez of seeking to build a second Cuba in Venezuela, citing his plans to create a single party and nationalise major utility companies.

Although Chavez this month described himself as a communist after years of denying it, he has also said he does not want to follow a Cuban model and that he will tolerate criticism and stand aside if he loses an election.

"Cuba and Venezuela, our countries are in the vanguard," he said, referring to the swing to the left across Latin America.

Source : AFP

Other news