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Monday, March 11, 2013
With death of Chavez, Castro says Cuba has lost its best friend
A supporter of Venezuela's President Hugo
Chavez holds a crucifix next to a picture of Chavez with Cuba's former
leader Fidel Castro (R) in Caracas January 5, 2013. Credit: Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Mon Mar 11, 2013 8:39am EDT
(Reuters) - Cuba's Fidel Castro praised
the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Monday as a champion of
the poor and said Cubans had lost their best friend ever, in his first
comments on the death last week of his socialist ally. Castro said the news, although not unexpected, had been a hard blow.
the 5th of March, in the afternoon hours, died the best friend the
Cuban people had in their history," Castro wrote in a column published
in Communist Party newspaper Granma.
have the honor of having shared with the Bolivarian leader the same
ideals of social justice and of support for the exploited," said the
86-year-old Castro who led Cuba's 1959 revolution, ruled the country for
49 years and still plays a behind-the-scenes role.
"The poor are the poor in any part of the world," he said.
Chavez' years in power, he and Castro forged a close personal and
political relationship that resulted in extensive Venezuelan aid to the
communist island and a shared strategy for promoting Latin American
unity against U.S. influence in the region.
Chavez helped rescue Cuba
from desperate economic times that followed the 1991 collapse of the
Soviet Union, its former top ally, by providing two-thirds of its oil in
a barter deal for the services of Cuban professionals, most of them
doctors and nurses.
He also signed a number of joint ventures aimed at integrating the two countries' economies.
58, was diagnosed with cancer in the pelvic region in June 2011 by
Cuban doctors and underwent four surgeries on the Caribbean island,
which has an extensive medical system and provides free care to its
Except for a set of
photographs, Chavez was never seen in public again following his last
operation in December and he died on Tuesday in Caracas.
Castro said he had received a phone call via satellite notifying him of what he called "the bitter news."
significance of the phrase used was unmistakable. Although we knew the
critical state of his health, the news hit us hard," wrote Castro, who
resigned as Cuba's president five years ago because of his own health
"I remembered the times
he joked with me saying that when both of us finished our revolutionary
work, he would invite me to spend time by the Arauca River in Venezuelan
territory, which reminded him of the rest he never had," Castro said.
Raul Castro, who succeeded his older brother as Cuba's president, represented the island on Friday at Chavez' funeral.
Chavez' death has raised worries in Cuba that Venezuelan aid will cease to flow to the island.
preferred successor, Nicolas Maduro, is favored to win an April
election to replace Chavez and expected to continue his Cuba policies
for the immediate future.
if more conservative opponent Henrique Capriles pulls off an upset
victory, he has promised to put an end to Venezuela's oil largesse.
closed his column by paraphrasing a famous quote from another late
friend and revolutionary, Ernesto "Che" Guevara," the Argentine
physician who fought alongside him in the Cuban revolution.
"Until victory always, unforgettable friend," Castro wrote of Chavez.
(Reporting By Jeff Franks; editing by Christopher Wilson)