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Page last updated at 08:14 GMT, Sunday, 14 December 2008

Castro on first presidential trip

Hugo Chavez (l) and Raul Castro
Raul Castro (right) eschewed his usual military fatigues

Cuba's President Raul Castro has held talks in Venezuela, during his first overseas trip since taking over from his brother Fidel earlier this year.

The Cuban leader met his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez, a key ally of the communist-run island state and a long-time admirer of Fidel Castro.

After their meeting, the two leaders presided over the signing of a series of joint energy and commercial deals.

Mr Castro offered Mr Chavez and the Venezuelan people "a hug" from Fidel.

The visit comes only a few weeks ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution, and Mr Chavez said this trip carried "the same importance" as Fidel Castro's first international visit - also to Venezuela - after claiming victory in 1959.

'A better world'

The two men announced over 300 joint projects in health, education, culture and sport.

In a speech, Raul Castro praised the close relationship between the two nations, drawing attention to Venezuela's social programmes in health and education which use Cuban expertise.

I bring a greeting to all the Venezuelan people, an embrace from the Cuban people and the chief of the revolution, comrade Fidel Castro
Raul Castro

He called a regional trade agreement - in which Venezuelan oil is offered to member states at preferential rates - an instrument for Latin America and the Caribbean to move away from neoliberal trade policies.

Cuba receives around 90, 000 barrels of Venezuelan oil every day under this arrangement. It was proof, Mr Castro said, that a better world was possible.

Aside from the symbolic nature of the visit, the two leaders discussed joint strategies to combat the global economic crisis, particularly the low oil price.

Some economists suggest the falling price of oil will have a serious impact on Venezuela's ability to assist its allies by supplying them with cheap fuel.

The Venezuelan government denies the claim and says the economy is in good shape.

The BBC's Will Grant in Caracas says that, either way, both men will be keen to see their close relationship continue, for economic and ideological reasons.

Presents

The two leaders visited the tomb of the South American independence hero, Simon Bolivar.

Mr Chavez presented the Cuban leader with a gold-plated replica of a sword that had belonged to Bolivar.

In return, Raul Castro gave Mr Chavez a photograph of himself taken during his years as a guerrilla leader.

The two men are also believed to have discussed Mr Chavez's campaign to change the constitution in Venezuela in order to allow him to stand for office as often as he likes.

Mr Chavez marks 10 years in office as president in February.

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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
The Sun News Raul Castro salutes Chavez in 1st trip as prez - 14 hrs ago
Seattle Times Castro visits Venezuela on 1st trip abroad as prez - 15 hrs ago
Asian Age Cuba eyes firmer Venezuela ties - 17 hrs ago
The Hindu Castro in Caracas on first presidential trip - 17 hrs ago
Las Vegas Sun Raul Castro salutes Chavez in 1st trip as prez - 19 hrs ago



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