CARACAS (Reuters) – Cuba's President Miguel Diaz-Canel flew to Caracas on Wednesday on his first foreign trip as Head of State, a solidarity action for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose controversial re-election this month was condemned by the West.
"I promise you that, no matter how big a challenge, in Cuba you can count today and forever," Diaz-Canel said after a meeting with Maduro in the presidential palace of Miraflores.
"Venezuela needs our solidarity now," he said earlier to the Constituent Assembly of Venezuela, a pro-government legislative superbody.
The United States, the European Union and the major Latin American countries have condemned Maduro's re-election on 20 May, declaring that it does not meet democratic standards.
Two of his rivals were excluded from standing and the electoral board is led by loyalists. The US government imposes new sanctions on the crisis-ridden oil exporter.
But China and Russia warn against interference in the socialist-led country, and other left governments in the region from Cuba to Bolivia have offered their support.
"Their words express the best of the Cuban people, and we are always grateful for the support you have given us," said Delcy Rodriguez, a leading Maduro ally in charge of the assembly, which, in the opinion of the People's Democratic Union Critics have undermined the opposition-controlled legislature, The National Assembly.
Maduro was the first foreign leader to join Diaz-Canel met last month after he replaced Raúl Castro to become President of the Communist-led island.
Venezuela, which holds the largest oil reserves in the world, exchanges crude oil for Cuban medical and other technical services, although supplies have declined in recent years during an economic implosion in the country of 30 million people.
"We felt (Maduros) victory as our own," said Diaz-Canel. "Venezuela has supported Cuba in many ways in its history and we are very grateful."
Venezuelan opposition politicians say bilateral relations with Cuba are very unfavorable.
"Maduro did not sell the land, he surrendered it." NATIONAL SHAME! "Twice opposition lawmaker Juan Guaido posted a picture of Diaz-Canel on Wednesday with a sash in yellow-blue and red Venezuelan colors.
Diaz-Canel flew with his wife Liz Cuesta as First Lady to Venezuela, in a break with the custom during the nearly 60-year reign of the Castro brothers Fidel and Raul without their spouses.
Diaz-Canel's visit came when the Cuban authorities had already killed four people and evacuated tens of thousands due to the chaos of the floods caused by subtropical storm Alberto.
Additional coverage by Nelson Acosta in Havana and Vivian Sequera and Alexandra Ulmer in Caracas; Letter from Andrew Cawthorne and Luc Cohen; Arrangement by David Gregorio and G. Crosse