Venezuela's Chavez denies rift with Cubans

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Mar 23 2009 06:38 AM | Updated as of Mar 23 2009 02:52 PM

CARACAS - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has denied rumors of a rift with his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro, describing such talk as "a little campaign."

The two leftist leaders have had apparently close ties since Raul Castro took control of the communist island a year ago, but in recent weeks rumors have swirled that Chavez backed a coup attempt by rival Cuban leaders.

"I have become a friend, a friend, of Raul Castro. I had not known about it, (but) there is a little campaign out there saying that Raul and I are fighting," Chavez said on Saturday.

The Venezuelan leader has been accused of backing Castro's opponents in an alleged power grab that led to the departure of two senior Cuban officials from government.

The rumors were fueled by former Mexican foreign minister, Jorge Castaneda, who recently claimed the sacking of Cuban foreign minister Felipe Perez Roque and vice-president Carlos Lage followed a Chavez-backed move by the men to remove Raul from power.

Perez Roque and Lage were removed from their posts on March 2. The move was surprising because both men were once seen as potential successors to replace Fidel Castro as leader of the communist island.

According to Castaneda, the move against Castro was backed or designed by Chavez as a means of slowing rapprochement between Cuba and the United States.