By Ian James, Associated Press
Wed. Sept 13, 2006
CARACAS, Venezuela - One is a Cold War icon who has defied the United States for nearly a half-century. The other is a charismatic ex-military man who could be Washington's biggest Latin American nemesis for years to come...Chavez and his mentor Castro have markedly different styles, but their friendship ensures Cuba critical economic support with a bonanza of Venezuelan oil and credit.
Some who know the 52-year-old Venezuelan predict he will continue to promote Castro's beliefs, challenging U.S. hopes that the Cuban leader's illness will spur democratic change in the communist country...astro and Chavez are united by what they call a crusade against U.S. dominance of Latin America and unbridled capitalism that is driving the world to ruin. A personal connection feeds their ideological closeness.
At Castro's bedside in Cuba recently, Chavez lovingly grasped the hand of the man he says he sees as a father. "He's like the father of all the revolutionaries of our America. He's the lighthouse that lights the paths," Chavez said in one of his marathon speeches that, like Castro's, often run for hours. Castro has designated his younger brother Raul as his eventual successor, but in many ways Chavez has already assumed Castro's role as Latin America's biggest challenge to the U.S. government.
On the economic front, Cuba's trade with Venezuela is booming. Venezuela has helped Cuba defy a U.S. trade embargo, partly supplanting Soviet subsidies that dried up in the early 1990s.
Venezuela predicts trade with Cuba will reach $1.8 billion this year, including shipments of some 98,000 barrels of oil a day sold under preferential terms including deferred payment. Meanwhile, thousands of Cuban doctors are treating poor Venezuelans for free.
"Chavez is a major factor in what's going to happen in Cuba from now on," said Larry Birns, of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs. "He essentially has rendered Castro and Castroism immune to any kind of U.S. action unless the U.S. is prepared to threaten its oil supply and begin a diplomatic conflagration in the Caribbean."
Chavez says Venezuelan troops would help defend Cuba against any U.S. invasion.
He has followed Castro's health closely since Cuba announced July 31 that Fidel was temporarily ceding power to his brother after the surgery.
And Chavez increasingly adopts ideas and phrases coined by Castro, including his common exclamation "Fatherland or death!" However, Chavez, unlike the more agnostic Castro, often expounds on links between Jesus Christ and socialism.
Other differences are more obvious.
Venezuela's brand of socialism, which Chavez calls the Bolivarian Revolution, remains a far cry from the communism Castro installed after the revolution toppled dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959.
While Cuba maintains its single-party political system, Chavez — first elected in 1998 — is running for re-election in a multiparty system.
And while Chavez opponents accuse him of being an autocrat, much of Venezuela's news media remain virulently anti-Chavez. Private businesses continue to drive the Venezuelan economy, despite an increasing state role.
Chavez says the "21st century socialism" he's building will not fit a Cuban blueprint.
He also has praised Cuba as a "revolutionary democracy" with direct citizen participation at the grass-roots level, and he says Castro assures him Cuba's socialist system will live on.
On a Sept. 1 visit to Cuba, Chavez invoked Castro's traditional call to arms as a TV camera rolled: "Hasta la victoria siempre! Venceremos!" — "Toward victory always! We will prevail!"
Castro, visibly moved, repeated the words with gusto...
Chavez takes on Bush during UN trip
NEW YORK - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez came to New York this week without a prepared speech but with a firm conviction he would address the United Nations without reservations or omissions.
The word he chose to describe President Bush — "the devil" — stirred controversy and some sharp reactions, but Chavez said Thursday that he stood by that term. "Sometimes the devil takes the form of people," Chavez told hundreds of supporters in a church in Harlem. He called the war in Iraq and said Bush is a "sick man."
It was classic Chavez: frank, uncensored and irreverent. Some observers, such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, suggested both Chavez and the Bush administration both ought to calm their rhetoric and avoid name-calling. But Chavez accused the U.S. of keeping his doctors and his security chief from coming to New York by not granting them visas. "They're attempts to persuade me not to come, because some people would like for me not to come, but I come. I come to say what I think must be said," Chavez said. The Venezuelan has said he did not prepare a script for his speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday, but rather went in with ideas and spoke spontaneously, as is his custom.
Chavez described himself Thursday as a friend of the American people, and announced Venezuela would boost sales of discounted heating oil to poor Americans. But, he insisted, "we're enemies of imperialism" — his shorthand for the Bush administration.
>>I think President Chavez was fully in his right to say whatever he wanted to about the United States and the President especially since he was on a UN tour and had been denied of visas for his staff...He joins the ranks of George Lucas who released the Star wars trilogy in time with Bush's presidency on purpose...Harlem embraced Chavez and he in turn gave heating oil to their neighborhood...What's new with people thinking badly of Bush? I think it is important for leaders of countries to give heartfelt and honest critiques of one another in case they think that someone is not doing a good job...After all, who else could do that and cause such a controversy that hopefully will promote change? Otherwise, they would just bare their teeth and grin through being a "politician"...