Cuba’s new leader praises Maduro in ‘solidarity’ visit to Venezuela

Miguel Díaz-Canel intends to preserve Cuba’s close ties with Venezuela. (Reuters pic)

CARACAS: Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel flew to Caracas on Wednesday for his first foreign trip as head of state, a show of solidarity for Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, whose controversial re-election this month has drawn condemnation in the West.

“I pledge to you that no matter how big the challenges, you can count on Cuba today and forever,” Díaz-Canel said after meeting Maduro in the Miraflores presidential palace.

“Venezuela now needs our solidarity,” he earlier told Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly, a pro-government legislative superbody.

The United States, the European Union, and major Latin American countries have condemned Maduro’s May 20 re-election, saying it did not meet democratic standards.

Two of his rivals were barred from standing and the election board is run by loyalists. The US government imposed new sanctions on the crisis-stricken oil exporter.

But China and Russia have warned against meddling in the Socialist-run country, and fellow leftist governments in the region from Cuba to Bolivia have offered their support.

“Your words express the best of the Cuban people and we are forever grateful for the support you have given us,” said Delcy Rodríguez, a senior Maduro ally who heads the Assembly, which critics say has undermined the opposition-controlled legislature, the National Assembly.

Maduro was the first foreign leader to meet with Díaz-Canel last month after he succeeded Raúl 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 in recent years during an economic implosion in the country of 30 million people.

“We felt (Maduro’s) victory as our own,” Díaz-Canel said. “Venezuela has supported Cuba in many ways throughout its history. We have a debt of gratitude.”

Venezuelan opposition politicians say bilateral relations with Cuba are deeply unfavourable.

“Maduro did not sell the country, he handed it over. NATIONAL SHAME!” tweeted opposition lawmaker Juan Guaidó, posting a picture of Díaz-Canel wearing a sash with the yellow, blue, and red Venezuelan colors on Wednesday.

Díaz-Canel flew to Venezuela with his wife Liz Cuesta as first lady, in a break with custom during the nearly 60-year rule by the Castro brothers Fidel and Raúl, who generally travelled without their spouses.

Díaz-Canel’s visit came as Cuban authorities faced the chaos of flooding in the wake of Subtropical Storm Alberto that has already killed four people and prompted the evacuation of tens of thousands.