The Associated Press
October 30, 2000

Cuba, Venezuela Sign Oil Deal


          CARACAS, Venezuela (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.

          Chavez touted 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.

          Venezuela will 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
          Rodriguez said.

          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.

          The financing 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.

          The state-to-state 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.

          Cuba already 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.

          Monday's signing 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
          40 years.

          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.''