Chavez to depart Thursday on trip to Russia, Libya, Iran
Venezuela's firebrand President Hugo Chavez departs Thursday on a major international tour aimed at strengthening trade ties with several countries in eastern Europe and the Middle East, including Iran, Libya and Russia.
The Venezuelan leader, who embarks Thursday on his first destination, Moscow, said recently that the multi-country trip is of "maximum importance" for Caracas.
"It will allow us to deepen our relations in the multi-polar world," he said.
Chavez has been trying to bolster his international standing as he continues to spar openly with the United States.
Long a thorn in the side of Washington, Chavez has challenged Washington's hegemony in the region and around the world, including publicly backing Iran's right to a nuclear program, which the United States strongly opposes.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, another US nemesis, last November visited Venezuela in what was seen as part of a continuing challenge to the United States.
Chavez also famously needled Washington at a United Nations General Assembly gathering when said he detected the devil's "sulfur" in the building in 2006, while the country was led by US President George W. Bush.
Chavez's travels, which also take him to Iran, Belarus, Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Algeria and Portugal, come at a time when Venezuela has been hardhit by the global recession and has seen its economy shrink by 3.3 percent.
While in Moscow, Chavez is to discuss with President Dmitry Medvedev plans to establish a Russian-Venezuela bank, and progress on proposals to build 7,000 homes in Venezuela.
Moscow and Caracas also earlier this year signed a multimillion dollar deal that would bring Russian knowhow to Venezuela's oil undercapitalized production industry.
Russia also has agreed to supply Venezuela with military aircraft and other advanced weaponry, as well as helping the South American country with its plans for nuclear energy development.
© 2010 AFP