The New York Times
October 26, 2000

Venezuelans Plan Castro Protests

          CARACAS, Venezuela (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.

          Venezuela's largest 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

          Opposition lawmakers 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
          wage increases.

          Chavez opposes the United States' 40-year-old embargo of Cuba and
          has deepened ties with the communist island since taking office in January

          Castro planned 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.