Venezuela gives Cuba satellite access
Campaign News | Thursday, 25 January 2007
Accord signed between Chavez and Carlos Lage
CARACAS, Venezuela: Venezuela will grant Cuba access to the South American nation's first-ever satellite, due to be launched in September, as ties between the states deepen and the health of Cuban President Fidel Castro grows more uncertain.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuban Vice-President Carlos Lage on Wednesday signed accords on telecommunications, steel and agriculture, calling for Venezuela to share use of its new "Simon Bolivar Satellite" with Cuba and to spend up to 1.1 trillion bolivars ($512 million) to create a series of joint ventures. The purpose of the satellite wasn't disclosed.
"Castro's government needs the force and lungs of Chavez to ensure that Fidel's death has the smallest impact possible," said Luis Vicente Leon, director of the Caracas political research firm, Datanalisis. "These accords give the Cuban government oxygen to maintain its connection to the people and minimize the risk of imbalance, domestic or foreign, during the transition after Fidel dies."
The Cuban delegation's unexpected visit to Caracas on Wednesday, announced minutes before Lage and seven ministers appeared outside the presidential palace with Chavez around noon, comes as an ailing Castro begins to reap growing rewards from his ties with his Caribbean neighbour. More than 100,000 barrels of Venezuelan oil, supplied daily to Cuba at a 40 percent discount, helped fuel 12.5 percent growth in the island's $60 billion economy in 2006, according to the Cuban government.
"Fidel, in the end, managed to secure not just a good friend in Chavez, but a good business partner, a guy who'll help prolong his anti-American legacy and provide resources as well as support," Leon said. "And it's certainly in Chavez's interest to be sure a leftist government remains in Cuba."
Chavez has forged a close bond with Castro since he was first elected president in Venezuela in 1998, modeling his own brand of "21st Century socialism" on the Caribbean island and praising its leader's actions and ideas almost daily.
Wednesday's accords also include plans for the two nations to cooperate on fiber-optic cable projects, build a joint-owned stainless steel factory and boost Venezuelan nickel imports from Cuba, which contains the world's second-largest nickel reserve, Venezuelan Mining Minister Jose Khan said.