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Venezuela's Chavez arrives in Cuba ahead of global tour

world Updated: Sep 22, 2008 08:44 IST
Venezuela's Chavez arrives in Cuba ahead of global tour

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez arrived in Cuba late on Sunday to meet with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, as Caracas's firebrand leader sets out on a tour that includes China, Russia, Portugal and France.

The Venezuelan leader was greeted at Jose Marti International Airport by Cuban President Raul Castro, who wore his customary military uniform.

In an article published Sunday in Cuba's state-run press, Castro, 82, said the one-hour meeting with his close friend Chavez will be "a great honor for me." The meeting follows a tete-a-tete between the two leftist leaders in June.

The Venezuelan leader had been authorised by the legislature to stop in Belarus as well, but said Sunday in his "Hello Mr. President" weekly broadcast that he would not be traveling there, without explaining why.

Chavez has said his travels hold "great strategic interest," for his country. Lawmakers in Venezuela approved his September 21-27 tour, designed to "strengthen international relations with those countries and sign exchange and cooperation deals on economic, social and cultural matters."

After his stop in Cuba, Chavez travels to China for talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao on the capitalization of a six-billion-dollar bilateral investment fund which he says Caracas will use for "socialist productive projects."

China is contributing four billion dollars and Venezuela two billion dollars, said Chavez.

While in China Chavez could firm up announced plans for Venezuela's purchase of 24 K-8 Chinese training and combat planes, which could be part of Venezuela's air force next year.

Chavez, a staunch foe of the US government, will then head to Moscow. Caracas in recent years has been broadening its military ties to Moscow, and Chavez backed Russia in the recent Georgian conflict.

Earlier this month, Russian supersonic Tu-160 heavy bombers for the first time flew training runs with Venezuela in an area of the Caribbean traditionally considered the US military's sphere of influence.

Caracas and Moscow have naval maneuvers planned for the Caribbean in November or December.

The Venezuelan leader will then travel to France, where he will meet with President Nicolas Sarkozy, whom he refers to as a friend.

On the last stop in Portugal, Chavez will sign agreements on housing and computer technology. Portugal is a partner in natural gas projects in Venezuela.

Chavez will also purchase 50,000 prefabricated homes in Portugal, and is seeking to sign a deal to build a factory for prefab homes in Venezuela.