HAVANA (AP) — Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel met with his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro Saturday in his first official act as the country’s leader.
Maduro is the first president to visit Diaz-Canel since he was selected by outgoing President Raul Castro to lead the island’s government earlier this week.
The Associated Press was told that Castro did not attend the welcome ceremony for the Venezuelan president at the Palace of the Revolution. But in a marked change from the past, Cuban first lady Lis Cuesta was in attendance along with Maduro’s wife Cilia Flores.
Cuba had no first lady during the nearly six decades that the Castro family was in power. Castro was a widower when he took office 12 years ago and his older brother Fidel carefully guarded his private life.
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The Cuban government selected 58-year-old Diaz-Canel as the sole candidate to succeed Castro on Wednesday in a transition aimed at ensuring the continuity of the country’s single-party system. The 86-year-old Castro will remain head of the Communist Party, but it is not clear how much power he will wield.
The meeting between Maduro and Diaz-Canel affirms the strong alliance between Venezuela and Cuba, which in essence receives oil for Cuban doctors and technicians who work in public health in the South American country.
But former President Castro has acknowledged that the political and economic crisis in Venezuela is having a negative spillover effect on the island’s economy, and Cuba has sought to strengthen its alliance with China and Russia.
Official media have reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin called Castro and Diaz-Canel to affirm their shared interests, but did not offer further details.
On Monday, Bolivian President Evo Morales is expected to greet Diaz-Canel in Cuba.