Chávez-Castro accords counter strengthened U.S. embargo.
By Ruth Morris. Posted September 11 2005. HAVANA.
When Cuba's Fidel Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chávez took to the airwaves for a six-hour presidential chat show late last month, their chummy relationship was on open display.= Dressed in military fatigues, the two patted shoulders, joked about Chávez's driving, and reminisced about how they had been dining together during a raid on assassination plotters.
But the cozy friendship, and the economic bonds that cement it, are increasingly irksome to U.S. government officials. In addition to launching frequent verbal attacks on U.S. "imperialism," Castro and Chávez have deepened a trade agreement that brings 90,000 barrels of Venezuelan crude to the communist island a day -- at rock-bottom prices and on relaxed payment schedules.
Now, as crude prices soar, analysts say the preferential treatment Cuba receives from oil-rich Venezuela is providing a veritable lifeline -- not only keeping the Cuban economy afloat, but also subverting tightened U.S. economic sanctions on the island.
"Venezuela is the banker," said John Kavulich, a senior policy advisor to the New York-based U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. He said the financial aid had allowed Cuba to scale back economic reforms that had been designed to counter the impact of the U.S. embargo on trade and travel to Cuba....