June 7, 2019 / 6:44 PM / 19 days ago

Venezuela Socialist Party deputy meets Castro in show of unity on Cuba trip

HAVANA (Reuters) - Venezuela’s ruling Socialist Party Vice President Diosdado Cabello met with Cuban Communist Party chief Raul Castro on Friday in Havana in a show of unity as the United States steps up pressure on the governments of the allied nations.

FILE PHOTO - Venezuela's National Constituent Assembly President Diosdado Cabello walks after participating in a rally in Caracas, Venezuela, May 1, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

In a news conference at the Havana airport, Cabello said they had discussed preparations for the Sao Paulo forum of leftist Latin American and Caribbean groups in Caracas next month and how to better integrate their two nations.

Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel and Cuban Communist Party deputy leader Jose Ramon Machado Ventura took part in the meeting with Cabello, who had earlier on his two-day trip to Havana also met separately with Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.

“We need to be united because we have a very powerful enemy in common,” Cabello told reporters.

Cuban state-run media said that Castro had “reiterated Cuba’s firm support to the Venezuelan people and government”.

The United States is trying to force out Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in favor of an interim government and new elections, and has charged Cuba’s security forces with propping up Maduro, accusations that Havana has denied.

This week, Washington tightened its decades-old embargo on Cuba by imposing heavier travel restrictions in what it said was a bid to pressure the country over its involvement in Venezuela.

Meanwhile, the Lima Group regional bloc of 12 nations has taken a different tack of late and is courting Cuba to help find a solution to the political and economic crisis in Venezuela, which has caused an exodus of millions and sharp increases in malnutrition and the spread of preventable disease.

Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Friday Cuba would have a role to play in Venezuela’s “return to democracy” after holding the second bilateral meeting with her Cuban counterpart Rodriguez in a month.

Cabello dismissed the Lima Group’s intentions as “hostile towards Venezuela” and totally in line with those of the United States even if they sounded more benign.

Cuba, which has been a key backer of the Venezuelan government since the leftist Bolivarian Revolution that began under former president Hugo Chavez in 1998, has said it is open to help mediate but will never betray its ally.

Cuba has mediated in other regional crises in the past, most notably hosting the peace talks between Colombia’s government and Marxist FARC rebels.

However, analysts say Cuba, which receives subsidized oil from Venezuela in exchange for exports of Cuban professional services, has an economic interest in the Socialist Party staying in power. The Venezuelan opposition has said it would revise that deal.

Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Alistair Bell and Sandra Maler

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