Cuba, Venezuela extend economic cooperation pact

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba and Venezuela celebrated their decade-long socialist alliance yesterday in a ceremony that formally extends an economic cooperation pact and should insure a regular flow of oil to Havana for another 10 years.

Cuban President Raul Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced the extension of the Integral Cooperation Accord the two countries adopted in October 2000 and have expanded ever since as Venezuela has used its oil largesse to support Cuba’s fragile economy.

Castro said the continuance of the accord assured not only that political and economic cooperation would continue, but that there would be a “strategic union” between the countries.

Their alliance is bound by a shared belief in socialist principles and animosity toward the United States, which both the Castros and Chavez routinely refer to as “the empire.”

Venezuela is already Cuba’s largest trading partner and likely to take an even bigger role with the new pact.

Venezuela’s biggest aid to Cuba is the estimated 115,000 barrels of oil it ships daily to the communist island at preferential prices in exchange for Cuba sending thousands of doctors and other personnel to its South American ally.

Venezuela is also investing billions of dollars in upgrading Cuba’s oil infrastructure, particularly its refinery in Cienfuegos on the island’s southwestern coast, where it is doubling its capacity and planning a project for liquefied natural gas.

Castro also announced that the Cuban Communist Party will hold next April its first party congress since 1997, with a single topic on the agenda — the Cuban economy.

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