Controversy Surrounds Castro Visit
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.''