Raul Castro to go to Venezuela on first trip abroad as president
Cuban President Raul Castro is to travel to Venezuela Saturday, on his first trip abroad as head of state, dpa reported.
Raul Castro has not travelled abroad since he "temporarily" took over power from his brother Fidel in July 2006 and officially became head of state in February. He was then to travel on to Brazil, where he was to attend a summit of Latin American and Caribbean countries Tuesday and Wednesday in the north-eastern state of Bahia.
Castro originally told Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva that he would go to Brazil first, in a move that observers interpreted as a sign of a diversification in Cuba's foreign relations.
However, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez publicly announced in November that Castro would not visit "any other country before coming to Caracas."
Raul Castro apparently first heard of this from the media during a visit to Cuba by Chinese leader Hu Jintao.
"I don't know anything about that, but if the nephew said that, we have to go," Raul Castro said of Chavez's comments.
The leftwing populist Chavez often refers to Fidel Castro as his "political father."
"Venezuela was the first country that Fidel visited (in 1959) and Raul is going to repeat that, by visiting Venezuela on his first trip abroad," Chavez later confirmed.
In 2009, Raul Castro has confirmed visits to China, Russia and Egypt.
Cuba and Venezuela have very close ties. Cuba gets oil from Venezuela in exchange for the services of Cuban professionals, particularly in healthcare. Some 30,000 Cubans are currently working in Venezuela.