Venezuelan leader flies to Cuba ahead of Obama visit

AP News
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Posted: Mar 18, 2016 6:36 PM
Venezuelan leader flies to Cuba ahead of Obama visit

HAVANA (AP) — Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro flew to Cuba on Friday for a day of high-level meetings and ceremonies that appeared designed to send a message of socialist solidarity two days before Barack Obama becomes the first U.S. president to visit the island in nearly 90 years.

Maduro was accompanied by his ministers of foreign affairs, agriculture, health, petroleum and mining and communications. Communications Minister Luis Jose Marcano told Venezuelan state television that the two governments would agree on new cooperation in pharmaceutical production, urban agriculture, industrial development and tourism.

Later in the day, Maduro received the Order of Jose Marti, one of Cuba's highest honors.

Venezuela has been sending hundreds of millions of dollars in oil to Cuba each year in exchange for Cuba sending teams of doctors and other state workers to bolster Venezuelan government efforts. Some of that aid has been cut back as Venezuela struggles with a deep economic crisis. Venezuela's relations with the U.S. remain tense even as Cuba works with the Obama administration to normalize ties.

Cuba has made repeated public statements about maintaining its close ties with Venezuela even as President Raul Castro's government moves closer to the United States.

"We have big differences with the United States because of our emphatic, unlimited, complete solidarity with the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and the military-civilian union of its people," Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez told reporters Thursday afternoon in a press conference previewing Obama's trip to Cuba.

Maduro's visit was announced shortly afterward.

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Fabiola Sanchez contributed from Venezuela.

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Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mweissenstein