The Associated Press
October 26, 2000

Controversy Surrounds Castro Visit


          Filed at 11:33 a.m. ET

          LA GUAIRA, Venezuela (AP) -- Fidel Castro paid tribute to South
          American independence hero Simon Bolivar on Friday at Venezuela's
          national pantheon as part of a visit to solidify ties with Hugo Chavez'
          nation and profess a shared faith in revolution.

          With uniformed schoolchildren holding Cuban flags and an honor guard
          standing at attention, Castro and Chavez stood silently before Bolivar's
          tomb as Venezuela's national hymn was played. Wearing white gloves,
          both held and marveled at a jewel-encrusted gold sword used by
          Bolivar, who led South America's 19th-century fight for independence
          against Spain.

          Surrounded by thousands of cheering admirers, the two heads of state
          then walked to a central Caracas home used by Cuban Jose Marti during
          his 19th-century struggle to free colonial Cuba from Spain.

          Friday's walking tour followed declarations by Castro and Chavez that
          the globe's poorer nations must use their strengths to challenge what they
          call a ``unipolar'' world dominated by the United States and other
          industrialized nations that benefit from an increasingly globalized

          Castro was to address Venezuela's Congress late Friday -- despite
          warnings by opposition lawmakers that they will boycott or protest the

          Castro also was to sign a pact Monday under which Venezuela will
          provide Cuba with oil at discount prices and for barter -- including
          Cuban medical aid for Venezuela and expertise in its sugar industry.

          ``We have no alternative but to form an axis of power -- probably a little
          axis, but one that permits us to relate with the rest of the world,'' Chavez
          declared Thursday.

          Castro toured Vargas state, where hundreds of Cuban doctors have
          helped victims of flooding and landslides that killed an estimated 15,000
          people and left 100,000 homeless last December.

          ``Fidel! Friend! The people are with you!'' shouted Vargas residents who
          pressed around a beaming Castro after he delivered a speech lauding the

          Chavez, a former army paratrooper who was imprisoned after a 1992
          coup attempt, recalled how he met Castro in Cuba shortly after his
          release in 1994.

          ``I told you then that one day I hoped to welcome you with the
          Venezuelan people in the way you deserve -- and here we are,'' said
          Chavez, who has embarked on a ``social revolution'' by instituting a new
          constitution after being elected president in 1998.

          Other Venezuelans were less enthusiastic about Castro's visit. On
          Thursday, thousands of laborers and teachers marched in Caracas'
          streets to denounce the government's failure to pay overdue raises and

          Jeering and waving protest signs, they demanded that Venezuelan aid for
          Cuba go to underpaid workers.

          ``Out with Fidel! We're dying of hunger!'' one banner read. A group of
          mothers, all dressed in black, protested the deaths of Cuban women who
          have died trying to flee the communist island.

          There were doubts even among the crowd that welcomed Castro to La

          ``What I'm not sure of is whether this will bring benefits to Venezuela,''
          said Jose Rafael Sanchez, a 67-year-old handyman. ``Cuba doesn't have
          much to offer. There are other countries, bigger ones, like France and
          China and the United States, that we should be making friends with.''