Venezuela's Maduro visits Cuba to strengthen ties

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro met with former Cuban President Fidel Castro during a visit to strengthen the "strategic alliance" between the two leftist nations.

The two men spent much of their five-hour visit reminiscing about Maduro's predecessor and mentor, the late president Hugo Chavez, who died last month after a long battle with cancer.

"I spent five hours with Fidel chatting, remembering comandante Chavez, recalling how the two of them forged a relationship that went beyond a strategic alliance," Maduro told reporters.

"It is a relationship of brothers -- a Latin American and Caribbean family."

Maduro was later set to meet with Fidel's brother, President Raul Castro.

The Venezuelan leader landed in Cuba late Friday.

Just ahead of the trip, Maduro said that he would visit Cuba to sign agreements that would open "the new stage of cooperation in health, education and sports, and to ratify the strategic alliance" with the communist island.

Since first taking office in 1999, Chavez turned oil-rich Venezuela into Cuba's closest political ally and economic benefactor. Maduro, who is considered to be close to Cuba's leadership, is continuing this policy.

Venezuela sends about 130,000 barrels of oil to Cuba each day. The Havana regime of President Raul Castro pays this back in part through the labor of some 40,000 medical personnel and technicians that form the backbone of popular social programs for poor people that Chavez created.

Maduro narrowly won Venezuela's April 14 presidential election, officially defeating united opposition candidate Henrique Capriles by just 1.8 percent of the vote.

Capriles and his supporters however claim voter fraud, alleging that some voters cast multiple ballots or even used ballots belonging to people who had died.

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