February 35, 2008
CARACAS -- With a warm ''Fidel, how are you?'' in English, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez briefly paid homage on Sunday to the ailing Cuban leader and his decision last week to formally step down from power.
''Fidel has retired but he hasn't retired,'' Chávez said, speaking in Spanish. ``He is the father of us revolutionaries.''
Hospitalized for the past 19 months with an undisclosed illness, Castro announced Tuesday that he would not seek reelection as president of Cuba in a vote Sunday.
''Fidel is recognizing, with a great conscience, his reality,'' Chávez said. ``Some say that a transition is happening now in Cuba. The transition in Cuba began 49 years ago -- from capitalism to socialism.''
The Venezuelan president has especially looked up to Castro since the Cuban leader invited him to Cuba after Chávez's 1994 release from prison after a failed military coup. The relationship has deepened since Chávez was elected president in 1998 and has used Venezuelan oil as a lifeline for the struggling island nation's economy.
Venezuela sends almost 100,000 barrels per day of petroleum and derivatives to Cuba, worth more than $1 billion per year.
Chávez sent his greetings to Castro during his national TV show, Hello President. The Venezuelan president was speaking from a farm in Apure state that his government expropriated last year.