Venezuelans Plan Castro Protests
(AP) -- A visit by Fidel Castro is sparking
protests in Venezuela, where unions have called marches against
Venezuelan aid for Cuba and opposition politicians threatened to boycott
the Cuban leader's speech to Congress.
labor confederation, which is seeking pay raises,
called for a protest march in Caracas on Thursday. On Wednesday,
police in the western state of Zulia used tear gas to disperse striking
teachers, who complained that raises for Venezuelan workers should
come before foreign aid.
``If there is
money to give to Cuba, there must be money to give to the
workers,'' said Federico Ramirez Leon, president of the Workers
Confederation, Venezuela's largest labor organization.
It is not the
kind of welcome Chavez had wanted for Castro, who is in
the country for five days.
Chavez is an
admirer of the communist leader and last week lauded him
for his ``moral stature, his fighting spirit and his constant fight for his
vowed to boycott a Castro speech before
Congress on Friday. Opposition leaders said they were wary of Chavez
and Castro's relationship with Colombia's leftist rebels, who have
kidnapped and extorted Venezuelans living along the border.
Both Cuba and
Venezuela support peace talks to end Colombia's
decades-old conflict, and both oppose $1.3 billion in mostly military aid
being given Colombia's armed forces by the United States under Plan
Colombia, aimed at defeating the rebels who protect Colombian drug
Chavez and Castro
planned to sign an agreement to sell Venezuelan oil at
a discount to Cuba -- similar to deals Chavez signed with 10 Central
American and Caribbean countries last week.
Cuba will be
able to pay for part of the oil by sending doctors to
Venezuela and treating Venezuelan patients. That raised protests from
Venezuelan doctors groups, which insisted the money would be better
spent investing in the nation's medical infrastructure.
The Workers Confederation,
which groups around at least a million
government employees, also called its Thursday march in Caracas to
protest a Dec. 3 referendum organized by Chavez's supporters to
eradicate the country's traditional labor unions. It also seeks overdue
the United States' 40-year-old embargo of Cuba and
has deepened ties with the communist island since taking office in January
to tour sites associated with South American liberator
Simon Bolivar in Caracas on Friday. Saturday's agenda was still in the
works, but on Sunday Castro was to join Chavez on Chavez's weekly
radio call-in program, ``Hello President.'' A Cuba-versus-Venezuela
baseball game was to follow.