CARACAS (Reuters) – Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel arrived in Venezuela for his first foreign visit as head of state on Wednesday in a show of solidarity for counterpart Nicolas Maduro who is under fire in the West after a controversial re-election.
“We bring a message of fraternity and solidarity … for the people and Bolivarian government of Venezuela, for President Nicolas Maduro,” Diaz-Canel said on arrival, congratulating Maduro for his “resounding success” at the May 20 vote.
The United States, the European Union and major Latin American nations condemned Maduro’s re-election as not meeting democratic standards. For example, two of his rivals were barred from standing and the election board is run by loyalists.
But China and Russia have warned against meddling in the socialist-run nation, and fellow leftist governments in the region from Cuba to Bolivia have offered warm support.
Maduro was the first foreign leader to meet with Diaz-Canel last month after he succeeded Raul Castro to become president of the communist-run island.
Venezuela, which holds the world’s largest oil reserves, exchanges crude for Cuban medical and other technical services, though deliveries have dropped over the past few years during an economic implosion in the OPEC member of 30 million people.
Diaz-Canel flew to Venezuela with his wife Liz Cuesta as first lady, in a break with custom during the nearly 60 years that the Castro brothers Fidel and Raul led Cuba. They generally travelled without their wives.
His visit came as Cuban authorities faced the chaos of flooding in the wake of subtropical storm Alberto that has killed four people and prompted the evacuation of tens of thousands..
(Reporting by Nelson Acosta in Havana, Caracas newsroom; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Luc Cohen and Susan Thomas)