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Under the rule of President Hugo Chavez, the oil-rich South American nation of Venezuela – an important supplier of petroleum to the U.S. – “is working to establish” an economic system based upon that of communist Cuba, according to official Cuban sources.

“After the collapse of the USSR and the Eastern bloc, the media launched a vicious campaign trying to convince people that there were no alternatives to capitalism,” Chavez asserted.

“Cuba has proven them wrong, and … Venezuela is following close behind [Cuba],” Chavez triumphantly declared.

Chavez’ remarks were reported by Radio Havana Cuba, the official broadcasting service of the Cuban government.

Chavez, who has made no secret of his admiration for Cuban President Fidel Castro, praised “Cuba’s attempts to establish an alternative economic model,” which stands opposed to “free market neo-liberalism,” and lauded Cuba’s “example of courage and dignity in the face of international social and economic pressure.”

Since Chavez’ election to his nation’s presidency in February 1999, Venezuela and Cuba have established increasingly close economic and political ties. A current agreement exchanges Venezuelan oil for Cuban medical, education and athletic training assistance.

Cuba views Chavez as aiming “to make profound changes in Venezuela’s social and political structure,” according to a December 2001 Radio Havana Cuba broadcast.

Chavez – along with Castro’s Cuba – is advocating the economic and political integration of all Latin American and Caribbean nations into a single economic and political entity.

The new Latin American entity would stand in opposition to its northern neighbor, the United States.

In August 2001, Chavez warned that the Latin American region “must integrate or it will be disintegrated.”

Chavez and Castro reject the U.S. free trade proposal linking North and South American economies as an instrument of U.S. economic domination.

The Cuban “model” that Chavez admires, and which is in a position to benefit from a Chavez/Castro led “integration” of South America, is the same communist system that has dominated Cuba since Castro’s victory in 1959.

In an April 2001 speech at a mass rally commemorating the 40th anniversary of the “socialist charter of the Cuban revolution,” Castro – with an AK 47-assault rifle over his shoulder – proclaimed that Cuba “is and will always be a socialist [communist] revolution.”

A year earlier, in April 2000, Castro addressed a session of the “G77″ – a world organization of underdeveloped nations – and declared that “the current economic world order should be put on trial in an international legal process similar to the Nuremberg trials.”

Venezuela’s “model” has also gained support from one of the world’s rising superpowers and unabashedly communist regimes – mainland China.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin termed his April 2001 visit to Venezuela as “historic,” and expressed his belief in the “broad prospects for bi-lateral cooperation,” according to a report from Radio China International, the official broadcasting service of the mainland Chinese government.

Both Chavez and Jiang pledged to develop a “strategic partnership” between their two nations.

Observers note that reporting on the development of Chavez’ economic “model” may be problematical.

In a region where the existence of a free press is often difficult, Venezuela appears to be increasing its limitations on news reporting.

According to a recent report from the free press advocacy group Reporters sans Frontieres – Reporters without Borders – the Venezuelan news daily “El Nacional” was attacked by a mob following a Chavez speech criticizing the newspaper.

Similar incidents have been reported in Venezuela, where Chavez regularly demonizes and threatens his editorial enemies.

Castro has no such problems in Cuba, where the constitution forbids private ownership of news media. By law, news reporting is reserved for the government.

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