November 30, 2000

Sick Venezuelans in Cuba under oil-for-medicine deal

                  HAVANA, Cuba (Reuters) -- Fifty Venezuelans with illnesses ranging from drug
                  addiction to bone cancer arrived in Cuba on Thursday to receive free treatment
                  under a new program in which Cuba will pay in part for oil supplies from
                  Venezuela by providing medical services.

                  The Venezuelans were the first to benefit from the cooperation accord signed
                  last month by Cuban President Fidel Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo

                  In a deal aimed at solving Cuba's chronic fuel shortages and cash-flow problems,
                  Havana is allowed to pay partly in goods and services for the 53,000 barrels a
                  day being sent to the Caribbean island by oil-producing Venezuela.

                  The Venezuelan patients who arrived on Thursday will mostly stay at the Havana
                  health spa that for most of this year housed Argentine football legend Diego
                  Maradona, who nearly died from heart problems linked to drug and alcohol

                  Cuba's health system is regarded as one of the best in the Third World, and
                  Castro considers it among the greatest achievements of his government since the
                  1959 Cuban Revolution.

                  But since the Soviet collapse a decade ago, Cubans have been experiencing a
                  shortage of medicines due to the communist-run island's economic crisis.

                  The Cuba-Venezuela cooperation accord underlined the strong personal
                  friendship and political alliance between Castro and Chavez, a left-leaning
                  populist who was just 4 years old at the time of Cuba's revolution.

                  Chavez's critics say he wants to take Venezuela down the same communist path
                  as Cuba, something he strongly denies.

                     Copyright 2000 Reuters.