Cuba, Venezuela Sign Oil Deal
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
(AP) -- Fidel Castro capped a five-day tour of
Venezuela -- a virtual love fest with his host, President Hugo Chavez --
by signing a controversial oil assistance pact Monday that opponents say
Venezuela can ill afford.
the five-year pact as proof of his commitment to help
developing nations. Venezuela's private sector and labor unions said the
money could be put to better use creating jobs and paying off billions of
dollars of government debt. Others called it a thinly disguised gift to a
government accused of human rights abuses.
provide 53,000 barrels of oil a day -- at current prices,
worth more than $500 million a year. Cuba will pay for part of the oil in
cash and up to one-quarter of it under preferential financing terms,
depending on the price of a barrel, Venezuelan Energy Minister Ali
Cuba will also
receive an unspecified amount in exchange for treating
Venezuelan medical patients; supplying doctors, medical equipment and
aid in producing medicines; and providing expertise in agricultural,
tourism, sports, computer technology and scientific research.
terms give Cuba 15 years to pay, with a two-year grace
period, and a 2 percent interest rate. Venezuela has signed similar pacts
with Central American and Caribbean nations.
sale will replace part of the more than 100,000 barrels
a day that Cuba buys on the open market, Rodriguez said. The amount
to be sold by barter will be set by annual meetings to estimate the worth
of services Cuba will provide.
owes Venezuela's Central Bank an estimated $69 million,
and its government has agreed to begin paying down that debt.
Cuba has sent
450 doctors to Venezuela to help victims of landslides in
December that killed an estimated 15,000 people and left 100,000
homeless. But anti-Chavez lawmakers say it is difficult to put a price tag
on Cuban medical care under a permanent oil pact. Venezuela will pay to
house and feed the doctors.
ended a state visit in which Castro, 74, and Chavez,
46, cemented their friendship. Castro proclaimed Chavez a successor to
his role as Latin America's most visible revolutionary. Chavez called his
radical changes to Venezuela's government a ``social revolution.''
As an army paratrooper,
Chavez led an unsuccessful 1992 coup attempt
and was imprisoned for two years. Since his election in 1998, he has
deepened ties with Cuba and overhauled political institutions in this
oil-rich but poverty-stricken country of 24 million people. His leftist
coalition swept away the old Congress and Supreme Court and curtailed
the power of the two traditional political parties that ruled Venezuela for
Chavez has come
under increasing criticism by trade unions because of
billions of dollars in unpaid raises and pensions, and last week thousands
of workers protested in a march that coincided with Castro's arrival.
On Sunday, the
presidents talked for four hours on Chavez's weekly
radio program, ``Hello President,'' which was broadcast from Valencia's
Carabobo Battlefield where South American liberator Simon Bolivar
defeated the Spanish colonial army in 1821.
They closed the
program with an off-key rendition of ``Venezuela,'' a
popular ballad, a demonstration of their mutual affection.
``I have confidence
in you,'' Castro told Chavez. ``At this moment, in this
country, you have no substitute.''