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Palestinian delegation visits Venezuela

Following the UN vote which recognised Palestine as a non-member observer state last month, a delegation from Ramallah has visited Venezuela with the aim of consolidating existing agreements, as well as establishing new accords in other areas, such as health, education, sport, culture and tourism. The visit was confirmed by the Palestinian ambassador to Venezuela, Farid Suwwan.

Venezuela established diplomatic relations with Palestine in the aftermath of Israel's Operation Cast Lead in 2009. One of the first to assume a resolute stance against the Israeli assault on Gaza, President Hugo Chavez officially recognised the state of Palestine in April 2009, the first of all Latin American countries to take such a step. Chavez has been consistent in his denunciations of Israeli war crimes against Palestinians and called for Israeli leaders to be tried before the International Criminal Court, something emulated later by Bolivia's Evo Morales. Maintaining that Israel is committing genocide and resolutely adhering to a policy of apartheid, Chavez has led internationalist efforts in relation to the Palestinian cause, stating in 2011 that debates regarding Palestine are "openly sabotaged".

Last year's meeting between Chavez and Mahmoud Abbas produced accords which supported urban agriculture and Palestinian health care. Venezuela's health care system is based on the Cuban model; aiming for equal access to health care for all citizens including those living in remote areas, as well as implementing a system where doctors are responsible for conducting research in the locality and imparting their knowledge to medical students.

Jorge Valero, Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations, stated that Caracas will host a meeting of the "Committee for the Defence of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People" early next year, with the intention of evaluating Palestine's new UN status and discussing methods through which Palestinian people could exercise their rights.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki stated that this delegation's visit is "a new stage" for Palestine, with roots in Caracas, Venezuela's capital city. The meeting was based on "mutual respect" and "the political understanding and common futurist view on the basis of cooperation". Whilst various agreements had been applied since Abbas' visit, the meetings in Venezuela were designed to achieve a permanent implementation. An agreement was signed between al-Maliki and Venezuelan Vice-President Nicolas Maduro which abolished visas for Palestinians visiting Venezuela.

In addition, Venezuela pledged to build a hospital on Palestinian territory as well as strengthen scholarship programmes for Palestinians in Venezuela. The Caracas Latin American Medical School (ELAM) grants scholarships to students from abroad, focusing on countries which experience poverty and conflict; Palestinian students have attended ELAM since 2010. Further agreements to be signed next year by both countries include initiatives with regard to higher education.

Highly significant was the commitment between both countries "to combat media manipulation exercised by international power". Venezuela and Palestine have both been targeted by global media manipulation, a situation which continues to unfold as Chavez's renewed battle with cancer renews opposition "hopes" for Venezuela, whilst Palestinians find themselves misrepresented and demonised across the international media.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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