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  HOME | Venezuela (Click here for more Venezuela news)

Chavez Ends "Working Visit" to Cuba, Meets with Fidel Castro

HAVANA - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has ended a 24-hour "working visit" to Havana, where he met with his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, and the island's former president, Fidel Castro, state television reported Sunday.

Raul Castro saw off Chavez at the airport on Saturday, the brief statement said, without providing many details on the visit.

"Immediately after his arrival in Cuba (on Friday night), Chavez had a first meeting with Fidel, followed by another on Saturday, at which he also met with Raul," state television said.

The leaders talked "about the productive ties existing between the two countries in different areas" and about "issues related to the international situation, particularly the global economic crisis and its consequences for Latin America and the Caribbean," state television said.

Chavez's visit, which had not been previously announced either in Caracas or Havana, was the fifth he is known to have made to Cuba in less than a year.

The trip coincided with the first anniversary of Fidel Castro's resignation last Thursday, and with the anniversary on Tuesday of his brother Raul being sworn in as head of state.

A brief communique published in state media announced the visit on Saturday.

Chavez traveled with Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez, who also heads state-owned oil company PDVSA, Planning Minister Haiman El Troudi, Agriculture Minister Elias Jaua and chief of staff Luis Reyes.

Granma, the official Cuban Communist Party daily, reported that the visit began "with an embrace of the two presidents on the floor of the capital's air terminal, symbol of the unity of the two brotherly countries, and with cries of 'Viva Cuba!' 'Viva Fidel!' and 'Viva Raul!' from Chavez."

Chavez's first visit to Cuba in 2008 was in March, the second in June and there were two more trips in September, at the beginning and end of a foreign tour that took him to Russia, China, France and Portugal.

Raul Castro made a stop in Caracas in December on his first trip abroad as president to the Latin American summits organized by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Venezuela is Cuba's main trade partner, providing the island with more than 90,000 barrels per day of crude oil under preferential terms that allow the island to pay with medical, educational and sports services.

Chavez was the sixth Latin American president to visit Havana in less than two months, following Panama's Martin Torrijos, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Argentina's Cristina Fernandez, Chile's Michelle Bachelet and Alvaro Colom of Guatemala.

Fernandez and Bachelet were received by Fidel Castro and had their photos taken with him, but the three male presidents did not.

The female presidents were given preference because Fidel, who has been ailing since July 2006, cannot meet with everyone who visits Havana, Raul Castro said as he was seeing off his Guatemalan counterpart.

The Venezuelan leader's visit, however, was the first that was not announced with at least a few hours lead time and to which foreign reporters were not invited to an official act.

In the next few months, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and Mexico's Felipe Calderon are scheduled to visit Cuba. EFE

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