Chavez attends ceremony in Cuba

Por Venezuela Real - 13 de Junio, 2007, 21:29, Categoría: Prensa Internacional

Miami Herald
June 13, 2007

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, in Cuba to visit his convalescing friend and ally Fidel Castro, attended a dedication ceremony Wednesday for a statue of a Venezuelan independence hero at Havana's waterfront.

The event followed an "emotional," six-hour meeting between Chavez and Castro on Tuesday, during which the two discussed Venezuela-Cuba relations, climate change and a socialist-leaning regional pact they created, according to state television.

Chavez was accompanied by Castro's younger brother, acting President Raul Castro, at the ceremony for the statue of Venezuelan hero Francisco de Miranda at the eastern end of Havana's waterfront, facing Havana Bay.

State television broadcast the event, panning over the new statue with the city's iconic San Cristobal de la Cabana Fortress in the background as a military band played.

Politics aside, the two men clearly share a deep personal affection, with Chavez visiting Castro more than any other foreign leader since he fell gravely ill in late July.

Chavez, 52, spoke fondly of his friend during an exclusive interview with The Associated Press on Saturday. He brought up memories of their many conversations, recalled greeting crowds of supporters together in Venezuela and also talked about Castro while condemning as unjust the execution of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Castro announced July 31 that he had undergone emergency intestinal surgery and temporarily ceded his presidential duties to his brother Raul, the defense minister.

Chavez said with a chuckle that Castro told him recently: "I was needing this illness because now I read more." The Venezuelan leader said Castro has largely recovered and has kept involved in running the government alongside his brother, Raul.

Chavez praised Cuba's political system in the weekend interview, and criticized that of the United States - saying it is dominated by "the elite." He dismissed accusations he wants to hold lifelong power, and said he faces serious threats of being killed, just like Castro.

Despite his admiration of Cuba, Chavez denied that Venezuela's emerging socialist system is being modeled after the island's. "We're in the middle of building it, like an artist painting a picture," Chavez said. "We aren't copying anything."

Washington has repeatedly denied Chavez's accusations that it is plotting an invasion of Venezuela, but Chavez said his intelligence confirms there is a danger.

"They have a plan to invade Venezuela. To deny it would be absurd ... just as they have a plan to invade Cuba. Who could think they don't have a plan to invade Cuba?" said Chavez, who has pledged that Venezuela would help defend the island if needed.

Anita Snow reported from Havana and Ian James contributed reporting from an exclusive interview with Chavez in southern Venezuela.

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