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Cuba, Venezuela strengthen economic ties

Revolutionary allies Cuba and Venezuela signed a raft of economic accords on Monday aimed at furthering cooperation, including plans for nickel and oil development and a billion-dollar petrochemical complex in Cuba.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and acting Cuban President Raul Castro presided over the signings, the latest in a series of such events as the two countries cement their political and economic ties in fierce opposition to the U.S. presence in the region.

Ailing President Fidel Castro and Chavez in 2004 founded the Bolivian Alternative for the Americas, under which Monday's accords were signed, as an alternative to U.S.-led free trade initiatives.

So far just Bolivia and Nicaragua have joined the pact.

The two countries have already formed 19 joint ventures in many different sectors, especially energy where they are upgrading a Cuban super-tanker port, operating oil tankers and putting into operation a long dormant oil refinery in central Cienfuegos province abandoned when the Soviet Union collapsed.

The new plans signed on Monday call for building a plant to turn liquefied natural gas back into gas and study the potential to build a fertilizer plant and other petrochemical plants around the refinery.

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