December 14, 2008
Raúl Castro signed a string of agreements with Venezuela's Hugo Chávez during his first trip abroad as Cuba's president.
CARACAS -- Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and Cuba's Raúl Castro -- two presidents who need each other but for different reasons -- signed a series of bilateral accords Saturday during Castro's first trip abroad since he succeeded his ailing brother Fidel.
''We give a fervent welcome to you as one of the forces behind the [Cuban] Revolution,'' Chávez said as he greeted Castro with a hug at the international airport outside Caracas. ``It's a great honor for us to receive you.''
''I bring a salute, a hug for all Venezuelans from the Cuban people and from the leader of the revolution, Fidel Castro,'' the visitor replied.
The two presidents later laid a wreath at a statue of South American liberator Simon Bolívar in downtown Caracas in the morning and at Bolívar's tomb in the afternoon.
For Castro, the trip was important because Cuba's economy depends on Venezuelan oil that Chávez is believed to provide for free. For Chávez, the trip reinforced his ties to Cuba and the Castro brothers that strengthen his efforts to forge an anti-U.S. and anti-capitalist alliance in Latin America.
Analysts have speculated that Chávez has been unable to establish with Raúl Castro anything near the warm and fatherly relationship that he has enjoyed with Fidel Castro, who relinquished power in July 2006.
To perhaps show otherwise Saturday, Chávez hugged Raúl Castro upon his arrival and draped his arm around him repeatedly as if they were best friends.
But Daniel Erikson, a senior fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue and author of The Cuba Wars, said the question of personal chemistry between Chávez and Raúl Castro takes a back seat to their mutual needs.
''Venezuelan oil has kept Cuba running the past few years,'' Erikson said.
Apparently with that in mind, Castro last month hosted Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and senior officials from the state oil company, Gazprom. He sent his foreign minister to oil-rich Angola this year and invited Brazil's powerhouse state oil company, Petrobras, to drill for oil offshore from Cuba.
NEXT STOP ON TOUR
After visiting Venezuela, Castro is traveling to Brazil for a two-day meeting that begins Tuesday of Latin American and Caribbean leaders. He will remain for a state visit in Brazil.
Having no ally in Havana would be devastating to Chávez, who has cast himself as the political heir of Fidel Castro. Chávez travels frequently to Cuba to visit the ailing former leader and typically calls out ''How are you, Fidel?'' in English on his nationwide television and radio chats.