Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez broadcast his "Alo Presidente" show from the western tip of Sunday, side by side with Cuban leader Fidel Castro as the two flaunted the chumminess that irks U.S. officials accusing them of fomenting instability in Latin America.
The leaders bantered back and forth, provoking laughter from the audience of Cuban officials and Pinar del Rio residents, before announcing that Venezuelan soldiers had built 150 homes in the Cuban region most severely affected by last year's Hurricane Ivan.
The unity between the two leftist leaders has made Washington nervous, prompting top officials to accuse both men of threatening democracy in the region. On his way home from visits to Paraguay and Peru last week, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld cited Bolivia, where social uprisings have pushed out two presidents in less than two years. He told reporters that Cuba and Venezuela have been influencing the Andean nation "in unhelpful ways."
Castro and Chavez seemed oblivious to the criticism Sunday, focusing instead on joint social ventures, particularly in the health sector. Cuba's communist government has sent a fifth of its doctors to work in poor communities in Venezuela as it receives massive shipments of Venezuelan oil under preferential terms, AP reports.
As November 4 approaches (on this day, Russia and Belarus are to sign union programs), disputes between supporters and opponents of the integration become increasingly heated