Raúl Castro’s first official international visit as president of Cuba was this past weekend as he visited ally Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela. The Caribbean island’s leader hopes to further strengthen his country’s ties with that of its South American oil-rich socialist partner and main benefactor (Venezuela sends Cuba about 100,000 subsidized gallons of oil a day and has also sent 100,000 poor Venezuelans on all-expense paid vacations there; in exchange, Cuba sends thousands of its citizens to help with various projects, like teaching energy conservation and offering medical care in Caracas slums).
“Welcome to your home,” Chavez said to the 77-year-old Castro as he arrived, according to ABC News online. “Your visit is an honor for us.” Later, both laid flowers at the statue of Simón Bolívar, South America’s independence hero, and then had all-day meetings to discuss a myriad of collaboration projects.
The visit, while hugely symbolic, also represents a move from Cuba to become increasingly more globalized; after Venezuela, Castro is expected to travel to Brazil, which is governed by another leftist-leaning president, Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva, and is Cuba’s second largest South American ally, for an integration summit of Latin American countries.
Could a meeting with President-elect Barack Obama be far away? After all, Castro recently admitted to wanting to meet with the incoming U.S. president.