Venezuelan Leader Makes Surprise Visit To Cuba

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

( - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez arrived in Cuba on Monday for a surprise visit with his fellow Latin American leader and friend, Fidel Castro. Chavez made the Havana stopover at the conclusion of his official visit to the Dominican Republic, where he cemented an oil deal between the two countries.

When he arrived in Havana, Chavez told reporters he would be "reviewing cooperation agreements between the two countries."

Venezuela provides oil to Cuba at lower rates than other countries (including the United States) must pay. In exchange, Cuba provides Venezuela with good and services, such as medical care, sports coaching and education.

During his stopover, Chavez also planned to visit some of the Venezuelans receiving treatment in Cuban health centers. This marks his fourth visit to Cuba since he assumed the presidency of Venezuela in 1999.

Chavez denounced the United States in a speech in the Dominican Republic on Saturday.

During talks last week in Barbados, Caribbean leaders said they opposed a U.S.-Canadian plan to exclude Cuba from upcoming talks on creating a hemispheric free trade zone in the Americas. The Summit of the Americas meeting will take place in April in Quebec City, Canada. President Bush is expected to attend.

"In a post-cold war era, the technique of isolation and exclusion is not the best way to go," Barbados Foreign Minister Teresa Marshall said in Bridgetown.

U.S. diplomats insist Cuba had disqualified itself from participation because the country does not have a democratically elected government, violating a clause in accords creating the diplomatic framework for the summits.

"This is not an issue of exclusion, this is an issue of inclusion based on shared values and if today it is Cuba, tomorrow it could be somewhere else," said Luis Lauredo, U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States.

Canada's representative at the talks in Barbados, Marc Lortie, also said that the democracy clause was the key test for admission to the Summit of the Americas. The Barbados talks ended on Friday.