By Vivian Sequera
CARACAS (Reuters) – Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel flew into in Caracas on Wednesday for his first foreign visit as head of state, a show of solidarity for Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro whose controversial re-election this month drew fire in the West.
“Venezuela now needs our solidarity,” Diaz-Canel told Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly, a pro-government legislative superbody set up last year.
“The aggression against Venezuela harms all of America.”
The United States, the European Union and major Latin American nations have condemned Maduro’s May 20 re-election, saying it did not meet democratic standards. Two of his rivals were barred from standing and the election board is run by loyalists. The U.S. government imposed new sanctions on the crisis-stricken oil-producing country.
But China and Russia have warned against meddling in the socialist-run nation, and fellow leftist governments in the region from Cuba to Bolivia have offered warm support.
“Your words express the best of the Cuban people, and we are forever grateful for the support you have given us,” said Delcy Rodriguez, a senior Maduro ally who heads the assembly, which has been criticized by foes for undermining the opposition-controlled National Assembly legislature.
Maduro was the first foreign leader to meet with Diaz-Canel last month after he succeeded Raul Castro to become president of the communist-run island.
Venezuela, which holds the world’s largest oil reserves, exchanges crude for Cuban medical and other technical services, though deliveries have dropped over the past few years during an economic implosion in the OPEC member of 30 million people.
“We felt (Maduro’s) victory as our own,” Diaz-Canel said. “Venezuela has supported Cuba in many ways throughout its history. We have a debt of gratitude.”
Diaz-Canel flew to Venezuela with his wife Liz Cuesta as first lady, in a break with custom during the nearly 60 years’ rule by the Castro brothers Fidel and Raul who generally traveled without their wives.
He was later expected to meet with Maduro at the Miraflores presidential palace.
Diaz-Canel’s visit came as Cuban authorities faced the chaos of flooding in the wake of subtropical storm Alberto that has killed four people and prompted the evacuation of tens of thousands..
(Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta in Havana; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne and Luc Cohen; Editing by David Gregorio)