Castro and Chavez play ball....

Macdonald Stainsby mstainsby at SPAMhotmail.com
Thu Nov 18 19:23:03 MST 1999



Venezuelan leader in Cuba for baseball, business  10:36 p.m. Nov 17, 1999
Eastern

By Andrew Cawthorne

HAVANA, Nov 17 (Reuters) - Latin America's oldest and youngest
``revolutionary'' leaders, Fidel Castro from Cuba and Hugo Chavez from
Venezuela, traded an effusive bearhug on Wednesday ahead of a showdown on
the baseball field.
Perhaps of more tangible benefit, the pair's state oil firms also appeared
close to a deal to set up a joint venture at a disused Soviet-built oil
refinery in southern Cuba.
``We are ready to start a joint work in the Cienfuegos refinery,'' Chavez
told reporters, adding talks between Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA) and
Cuba Petroleo (CUPET) had ``advanced much more than we thought'' during the
trip.
Castro, 73, who led his 1959 Cuban Revolution when Chavez was just four,
laid on a lavish military welcome ceremony for the Venezuelan leader in the
morning before they entered talks at Revolution Palace in Havana.
``I am here to play baseball and do business,'' Chavez, 45, said of his stay
in Cuba, which follows his attendance at an Ibero-American summit in Havana.
Caracas has long considered investing in Cuba's small oil sector, and has
also been leading efforts to increase supply lines to the fuel-needy
Caribbean island.
It was the third visit to Cuba by Chavez, immersed in his own self-styled
``peaceful revolution'' in Venezuela, but his first as president since
taking power in February.
Although the oil issue occupied behind-the-scenes negotiations between
Venezuela and Cuba, most attention was fixed on Thursday's friendly baseball
game at Havana's biggest stadium, the Latinoamericano.
There, a full house of 45,000 mainly baseball-crazy Cubans are expected to
watch Chavez pitch against a team of veteran local stars managed by Castro,
also a keen fan and former player in his youth.
In a region dominated by passion for soccer, Venezuelans and Cubans have
made baseball their national sports.
Chavez dashed straight for the stadium to walk the field and limber up upon
arrival for the summit on Monday morning.
The game comes as a light note in Cuba after the Ibero-American meeting,
during which Castro's one-party system and denial of political space for
dissidents came under scrutiny.
Chavez has stayed well clear of that controversy.
Asked this week if he would follow the example of other foreign leaders in
Cuba and contact government opponents, Chavez replied: ``Me? On the baseball
pitch is where I'm going to have contact. I don't have any other contact
planned.''
On the oil joint venture, sources said the deal over the Cienfuegos refinery
would be a smaller-scale project to make oil derivative products principally
for the Cuban fuel market, rather than a major refurbishment of the plant.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jose Vicente Rangel told reporters the operation
would begin ``within a month, a month and a half more or less...to produce
fuel for the island, and also go to the Caribbean and Venezuela.''
It is not thought to involve large investment figures.
Both Venezuela and Cuba would provide crude for the project to make oil
products such as lubricants, diesel, jet-fuel and kerosene for Cuba's
expanding national market.
A 1994 initiative to start up the Cienfuegos refinery, which has never
operated commercially, involved a group of Mexican investors and was not
successful.
Chavez added that Cuba and Venezuela were also finalising rice, sugar,
agriculture machinery, and fisheries' cooperation deals during bilateral
talks that officially began Wednesday.
Chavez, a former failed military coup leader, has left-wing roots and was
cast by his rivals during Venezuela's election campaign as another
Castro-in-waiting.
Caracas has long opposed the 37-year-old U.S. economic embargo on Havana.

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