By Caribbean News Now contributor
SANTA CRUZ DE LA SIERRA, Bolivia -- Cuban President Raul Castro told a Group of 77 (G-77) + China summit in Bolivia on Saturday that Havana's closest ally Venezuela needed support amid the fallout from anti-government protests.
Cuban President Raul Castro. Photo: Ismael Francisco
"Venezuela today needs our staunchest support," Castro said in a speech to the meeting in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia.
"The oligarchs who could not get rid of President Hugo Chavez think the time has come to topple the Bolivarian revolution and President (Nicolas) Maduro," Castro said, describing the elected government in Caracas as "the front line of independence, freedom and dignity".
Maduro is Cuba’s closest regional ally and Venezuelan economic support is critical to keeping the Cuban government and economy afloat.
However, inflation near 60 percent, widespread shortages of basic goods and soaring crime have plunged Venezuela into a political and economic crisis.
Anti-government protests since February have left at least 41 people dead and more than 600 injured, with each side blaming the other for the violence.
The meeting’s host, Bolivian President Evo Morales, said that if the United States meddles militarily in Venezuela, it will have a new Vietnam on its hands.
"If Mr Obama keeps assailing the people of Venezuela, I am convinced that, faced with provocation and aggression, Venezuela and Latin America will be a second Vietnam for the United States," Morales told the audience.
"Let us defend democracy, natural resources, our sovereignty and our dignity," he added.
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon joined Morales to open the G77 summit, which marks the 50th anniversary of the group's founding.
It has grown from 77 developing countries in 1964 to 133 member states, encompassing two-thirds of the world's countries.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (R) with Bolivian President Evo Morales at the G-77 meeting. Photo: Evan Schneider/UN Photo
Addressing the meeting, Ban urged world leaders to work together to reduce poverty and inequality, while balancing the needs of the environment and addressing climate change.